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Land & Nature

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The Jerusalem Wilderness
   
submitted by This Week In Palestine
09.12.2006

Where nature and culture come together
By Imad Atrash

The southern part of the Jerusalem Wilderness (E 3519; N 3142) site extends from the Qadron Valley in the north, running through Al-Biqea’ah and Sa’eer wilderness, reaching Bani-Naim in the south. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Jerusalem mountain range which extends from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south. The whole area could be considered a beautiful reserve especially when natural vegetation, birds and wildlife are preserved in a clean and soundly-managed way beside archaeological sites such as the Mar Saba Monastery.

The area can be reached either from Bethlehem through Tequa’ village and passing through the village of Al-Asakra, through Wadi Khreton, or from the south side of the Dead Sea through Raas Naqab Al-Hemar.

The Mar Saba Monastery is located 10 km to the southeast of Bethlehem and occupies an area of approximately 2,000 dunums, with an elevation of about 200 m above sea level and an annual rainfall of 50-400 mm. The present monastery consists of the original carved part, in addition to the part constructed later in 482 AD, where St. Saba had lived till the age of 94. The monastery was destroyed twice in the seventh century and was rebuilt in the eighth century. The convent has a cave full of the skulls of monks who where killed by Persians invaders.

The site encompasses some valleys such as Raas Naqab Al-Hemar that is considered one of the most beautiful areas in the south of the West Bank which is part of Wadi Eldaraga/Wadi Khreton southeast of Bethlehem and is little known to the public. It has some Byzantine and Roman monasteries with some mosaic remains in certain agrologic areas.

The Jerusalem Wilderness mostly falls under the Irano-Turanian climate system, with a mountainous and desert habitat. The Wilderness extends east from areas within both the Bethlehem and Hebron districts towards the shores of the Dead Sea. Compared to other climate and habitat systems in the world, the Jerusalem Wilderness (El-Bariyah), which is defined by a semi-desert climate and habitat, does not enjoy such a high level of resident biodiversity. However, given its unique location biogeographically, the Jerusalem Wilderness serves as one of the most important bird areas in the Western Palaearctic according to the criteria of Birdlife International.

The region is characterized by the abundance of three phytogeographical regions: the western side of the Jerusalem Wilderness by the Mediterranean, changing to the Irano-Turanian territory and the Saharo-Arabian territory to the east. Furthermore, this site is important for bird conservation because of their value for education, research and ecotourism. It is located on the major migration route of many bird species that pass through it all throughout the year.

There is a need here to mention that the land in that region is agriculturally used, whereby local people plant fruit trees and wheat, which are useful for their daily life. The land is also used for grazing by livestock owners, who depend on it for their livelihood and work. The area is inhabited by several Bedouin families originating from Arab Al-Kaaba’na and Al-Rashida. They move from one area to another in search of water and grass, some of them staying in the area year round.

Wadi Qadron is a year-long stream. Currently sewage water from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Israeli settlements feeds into it. This will harm the area’s ecosystem and the many animals and birds that use it as a shelter during the winter and breeding season. The need to protect the Jerusalem Wilderness area is evident as it serves as habitat and refuge not only for the migratory and resident birds in Palestine, but also for a major portion of the East European and Central Asian bird populations. Moreover, the wealth of this area, in terms of its wildlife, could be used for the benefit of the local people through employing nature conservation “tools” such as international and regional ecotourism, which have proven to raise public awareness through linking nature protection and economic gain.






Imad Atrash is the Executive Director of the Palestine Wildlife Society www.wildlife-pal.org

Source:
This Week in Palestine
December 2006

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