There is a beautiful hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a nature reserve that is well known and very popular among those who enjoy the outdoors. It is especially stunning in the springtime, when the almond trees, anemones, and cyclamen – which grow there in abundance – begin to bloom and blossom, dappling the landscape with a burst of bright colors, tantalizing the senses with scents of every kind. I’ve walked there often, and have, on many occasions, felt that here is a little piece of paradise – an oasis of beauty, peace, and tranquility in the midst of what can only be described as a chronically frenetic, tense, and potentially explosive city.
But Sataf is not as pristine as it might seem. Its history is as sad and tangled as any landscape in this country, with only the remnants of long-abandoned buildings left to tell stories from a long forgotten past. Scattered over the hill, mostly on the eastern and southern slopes, are the skeletal remains of what was once a thriving Arab village – agricultural in nature, as attested to by the many man-made terraces that scale the hillsides. Like so many, this village was abandoned in 1948, in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel. But the crumbling structures (built during the Ottoman era) are joined by a good number of more modern looking buildings – or shacks, rather – square, thin-walled, with asbestos cement ceilings (that have long-since caved in), broken down metal gates, crumbling asphalt roads – the remains of an old Israeli army base, also abandoned many years ago. These deserted spaces, now very much part of a much more natural and overgrown landscape, are silent reminders that even behind all the natural beauty there are hidden secrets, a jumble of histories, the unknown joys and sorrows of a multitude of people who, at some point or other, lived in this place and made it their own. Continue reading “Sites of Encounter”