Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sabastiya: A Happy Ending

A tourist in Sabastiya's Roman ruins

My second trip to Sabastiya was on a sunny day in early April.  “Sabastiya Demonstration” was what our calendar read, but we’d received a telephone call the day before to tell us that there would be no demonstration– the sewage from the neighboring settlement of Shave Shomeron was no longer flooding Sabastiya’s fields!

Ahmad Kayed is a happy man!
This was good news indeed – and we wanted to learn more.  So we drove up the hill from the main road to meet with Ahmad Kayed, coordinator for the “Popular Committee for Sabastiya,” who had organized the demonstrations that led to this result.  Kayed was a happy man indeed.  He greeted us jubilantly, and invited us to climb the hill behind the city to view the old Roman ruins.  The remains of a theatre, a basilica, a forum, a tower, a temple and several churches were easily identifiable amidst the yellow daisies and purple thistle that bloomed on the hillside and, for a time, we became tourists, climbing the ruins and snapping photos!

Panoramic view from Sabastiya hilltop

Camel Rides for Tourists
Back down the hill, we took coffee overlooking a broad plaza where tourists came to start their explorations of the area.  Shops offered souvenirs and food; a saddled camel stood ready to give rides.  We saw very few tourists in this place that once, we were told (before the intifadas, before the Wall), was a major draw, attracting visitors from Europe, the US and across the globe.

But the sewage was foremost on Kayed’s mind, and he was eager to tell his story.  “Wednesday morning, I got a call from a farmer who saw bulldozers going to the area where the sewage was [being dumped],” he said, “I went to the area to see, and saw that the sewage was stopped.”

A call to the office of the local governor confirmed that the sewage flow was, indeed, closed off   – and apparently had been done so quietly, without fanfare.  Kayed says that this is the first time a Palestinian village has seen the cessation of dumping settlement sewage on farmland, and he attributes the publicity attracted by the demonstrations.

The weekly demonstrations started in early March; only four had been held, but they were well-attended by a lot of internationals, and press coverage had been good.  Kayed also credits Sabastiya’s long history as an important archeological site and tourist attraction as a factor in stopping the sewage.  “Strong is the one who uses his mind,” he says.
Visitors to Sabastiya can now enjoy Roman ruins, like this 1st century church!

It is, as someone commented on my Facebook page, “a sad day when we have to consider the end of sewage dumping on a village to be good news.”  Still, in Palestine, one takes what one can get.  And, for now, for Sabastiya, the good news is that the farmers can now start the process of renewing their land.

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