Ein-Almaleh – a Palestinian nature reserve
The Jordan Valley (a much divided region) was captured by Israel during the Six Day War (June, 1967) and is now mostly under Israeli military and administrative control. An Israeli strategy to prevent Palestinian farmers from occupying land is to designate areas as nature reserves and thereby deny Palestinian access. As a consequence, Palestinians identify nature reserves with the expansion of Israeli settlement. However, there are several working Palestinian nature reserves in the Jordan Valley of which Ein-Almaleh is an example.
The village of Ein-Almaleh is to the north of Al-Aghwar, located in a mountainous rocky region interspersed by many green oases and attracts many visitors. Inhabitants live in very small communities scattered over the 180,000 acres of Ein-Almaleh.
The village contains an old hotel, popular with tourists, as close by there are several remarkable natural hot springs, some of which have been channeled into pools and spas. These thermal waters have a proven medicinal and curative value. As the thermal springs were used for irrigation since early times some of the pools have dried up.
According to Ibrahim Odeh, a member of the Palestinian Wildlife Society and coordinator of Ein-Almaleh’s wildlife program, the area is a very important nature reserve. Probably the area is most famous for gazelle, but their numbers are decreasing owing to illegal hunting. Some species are listed as endangered including the oryx (a large antelope), the onager (a wild ass) and the hyrax (a more delicate version of the wombat), which lives in rocky areas.
In addition, Odeh says the area is very important for the life of wild birds, because it is characterised by an abundance of water and high humidity. It is a quiet place with a small population.
Odeh is concerned to point out that people need to change their attitudes to animal life. “In the past,” he says, “our grandmothers told us stories about the hyena which frightened us so that we would not go out at night. The negative image given of the hyena in these stories resulted in the killing of hyenas and a big decrease in their numbers. In fact, the hyenas greatly assist the environment by consuming decaying matter.”
In 2008, Odeh’s program instituted several campaigns to protect donkeys from brutal treatment. For instance, soft material was distributed amongst donkey owners who were shown how to use it to pad the iron bridge which otherwise causes intense pain to the donkey’s nose. In addition, owners were discouraged from beating their donkeys and encouraged to treat them humanely, appreciating them both for their cleverness and usefulness.