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The Landscape Beyond the Highway:

Reclaiming the Depopulated Villages West of Jerusalem 

To all the travellers of this precious homeland, 

Who walked, and continue to walk its surface,  

Desiring to learn all its phenomena [1] 


This is a work about lost historical landscapes, reimagined and reclaimed in the present. Loss, as much an emotion related to the past, also resides in the present, merging into the affectivity and spatiality of the everyday life. In this essay, I address the landscapes of three depopulated Palestinian villages west of Jerusalem: Sataf, Ein Karim, and Imwas, by considering the hegemonic Israeli infrastructure in the city, and its subversion through Palestinian mobility.  

The villages, destroyed and depopulated by the Israeli occupation in 1948 and 1967, have become a symbol of a past Palestinian life, entrenched with memories and reminders of loss and dispossession. My essay focuses on these villages, designated today as Israeli touristic and recreational sites (Figure 1), partially constructing a historical reading of their landscapes. More importantly, it attempts to observe their reality through the lens of the ‘colonial present’,[2] i.e. within the contemporary parameters of the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine. Examining recreational and pedagogical tours to these villages by Palestinian Jerusalemites, I argue that this mobility portrays a facet of spatial resilience. 

Villages to Landscapes: Temporality 

My study employed walking as a performative technique of research, and focused on local knowledge through discussions and on-site interviews (Figure 2). Having grown up in Jerusalem, the walks I conducted during my research represent a continuation to numerous previous journeys I have taken to these villages. Although scholarly in essence, these walks still intersect with various experiences by Palestinians on recreational tours in the depopulated villages. But are Palestinians in this case mere visitors? Owners? Pilgrims paying homage to a lost history? Tourists? This was one of the questions that made me ponder the affective value in acknowledging the temporality of landscape, and consider the tension surrounding the relationship between the villages’ past and present.  


Naturally, this complexity arises from the contradiction between the villages’ history of violence and dispossession, on the one hand, and the contemporary potential for touristic leisure therein, on the other. Amidst this contradiction is also the status of the Palestinian Jerusalemites as users and frequenters of these spaces of leisure, and here I refer specifically to the residents who do not originate from these villages, and therefore share a different connection to them than the descendants.


The reason for this specification is to observe the ‘colonial present’ from a space beyond that of memory and nostalgia. For Rochelle Davis, this nostalgia has framed the village in the Palestinian imagination as a romanticised ideal, especially considering ‘Palestinians’ current status as landless and dispossessed refugees’.[3] The subjects I address here, however, do not necessarily conform to this refugee status, but are still subject to the systematic Israeli strategies of alienation and subjugation. Under these conditions of Israeli-colonisation, therefore, a rising mobile lifestyle can be observed, especially amongst middle class Jerusalemite individuals and families. Through this lifestyle, the depopulated villages transcend their connection to the past and memory, merging into a contemporary landscape that responds and caters to an urgent need for human contact with greenery and openness, becoming a leisurely and liberating infrastructure of sorts (Figures 3 & 4).   

This reflects more than a romantic longing for an idealised image of the lost agricultural lifestyle or the life ‘before catastrophic change’ that Davis asserts,[4] as it also harshly exposes the contemporary crisis of dwelling in Jerusalem. The stateless status of Palestinians as mere ‘residents’ in their city only intensifies this condition of deprivation, where their access to the depopulated villages is conditional, posing them - in technical terms - as tourists or travellers, compared to the Israelis who live in the settlements built on the villages’ lands, while also being exclusively offered opportunities of allotment on the razed ‘wild’ parts (Figure 5). 

To evoke the image of a ‘tourist’ here, a term that would be locally frowned upon and deemed trivial and belittling to the Palestinian right to the land, is not to impose it or to contradict these local claims. Rather, by eliciting the historical and contemporary relevance of the field of tourism, I attempt to position this relationship with landscape within its rightfully affective and contradictory nature - current need versus memory, trauma versus pleasure. In their article Settler Colonialism, Indigenous Cultures, and the Promotional Landscape of Tourism in Ontario, Canada’s ‘near North’, Grimwood et al. argue:  

‘No doubt tourism is often complicit in marshalling settler colonial power, [...] yet research also suggests that tourism holds promise as a means for enabling resistance to settler colonialism’.[5]

Several parallels can be drawn between the Jerusalemite context and that of this study which discusses the relationship between Indigenous culture and tourism in Ontario, starting with the colonial appropriation of the colonised landscapes and the attempt to conceal past cultures under the claims of ancient connections between the settlers and the land. The other main parallel is that of the potential within tourism to become a site of disruption of settler colonialism. Particularly, I find the authors’ suggestion that indigenous ‘indifference to tourism’ is itself an asset and a sign of a genuine reclamation of land, most relevant and provocative in the case of the depopulated villages of my study.[6] For while Palestinians have little to no sovereignty over the villages’ landscapes today, making both official Palestinian tourism and architectural preservation extremely difficult, a subconsciously touristic lifestyle of recreation can indeed become a significant form of resistance.  


My intention in evoking this connection between the villages and a subtle form of resistant and reclamatory informal tourism is to attempt to imagine them anew as spaces of future potential rather than static objects for past-oriented archaeology and historiography. Imagination and the embodied space of touring thus represent an alternative sphere for reclamation and preservation that engages with ‘historical’ landscapes on a performative level, making them part of a larger contemporary discussion entrenched in the daily life of the city and connected to its infrastructure.  

Figure 1.  View from the Israeli recreational park built over the lands of Imwas. The touristic ‘palimpsest’ shows in the expanded Roman spring in the lower terrain north-east of the former village and the afforested areas with hiking trails on the higher terrain. Illustration by author, August 2022. 

Figure 2. On-site sketch from my walk in Ein Karim with a local researcher. The sketch illustrates the car ride from my house in Shufat, north of Jerusalem, to Ein Karim, highlighting features in the village, including the Hadassah Hospital complex. Sketch and photograph by author, July 2022. 

Figure 3. Visualising Sataf’s terrain: ruins, trees, and dominant roads. The destroyed village’s greenery and scenic views have made it a main recreational destination for Palestinians. Illustration by author, August 2022. 

R_Idries, Mira_Fig. 1.jpg

Figure 4. A section through Ein Karim’s former Palestinian agricultural area or ‘Bustan’, which has become a touristic site today. Ein Karim’s colonisation and transformation into an ‘Israeli neighbourhood’ after its depopulation signifies the contradictory nature of its landscapes, also evident in the contrast between the indigenous Bustan and the Israeli-afforested mountain in the background. Illustration by author, August 2022.

Figure 5. Agricultural terraces in Sataf, allotted to Israelis settlers. Illustration by author, August 2022.

[1] Shukri Arraf, Geographic Sites in Palestine Between Two Eras - Two Maps (Kufr Qare’: Dar Al-Shafaq, 1931). 

[2] Thomas Philip Abowd, Colonial Jerusalem: The Spatial Construction of Identity and Difference in a City of Myth, 1948-2012 (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East) (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 5.  

[3] Rochelle Davis, ‘Mapping the Past, Re–Creating the Homeland: Memories of Village Places in Pre-1948 Palestine,’, in Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, ed. Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 72-73.


[4] Davis, ‘Mapping the Past, Re–Creating the Homeland’, 72-73.  

[5] Bryan S. R. Grimwood, Meghan L. Muldoon, and Zachary M. Stevens, ‘Settler Colonialism, Indigenous Cultures, and the Promotional Landscape of Tourism in Ontario, Canada’s “near North,”’, Journal of Heritage Tourism 14, no. 3 (4 May 2019): 233–248, 

[6] Grimwood, Muldoon, and Stevens, ‘Settler Colonialism, Indigenous Cultures, and the Promotional Landscape of Tourism in Ontario, Canada’s “near North,”’, 233–248.  

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