Deir Isstia is another village in the Salfit district 10 minutes down the highway from Marda. I’d never heard of it but it is one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world with over 10,0000 dunmas of olive groves. 2 French women from a tourism NGO and another working as a middle East researcher we met the day before at an arts and crafts fair in Rammalah took us there. The ancient iron age town once home to crusaders Mamluks and later Ottomans is now a ghost town with all the villagers living in the more recent village surrounding it. US aid as well as other fund agencies spearheading a restoration project of the historic site which was abandoned after the war in ’67. Theres been lots of false dawns: recently built information centres sit alongside empty buildings with plans to be coffee shops and restaurants. Local interest in exploiting the areas rich history is almost non existent and its understandable when you’ve had your history robbed from you so often. As we explored the old towns corridors and rooftops we came upon a site which as attracted frequent visits from Israeli archaeologist.s Rumour has it treasure was buried on the site.
Just outside Deir Isstia is the fertile valley of Wada Qana. The Palestinian owned land was declared a nature reserve by the state of Israel and Palestinians are now forbidden to farm and plant there. The site is surrounded by hilltop settlements with pipes running down the hill draining the agricultural land of water and Olive Trees are frequently burned by the neighbouring settlers. And in the name of natural preservation, Israeli orders were given to uproot 1,400 ancient olive trees.
We came on the Friday when locals meet weekly in a show of defiance, to relax, plant trees, eat and drink tea on their land. Theses events can often be flashpoints for violence between palestinians and settlers but our visit was a peaceful one. It is one of the most beautiful places Ive ever seen.