AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We go now to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to a cave and a small spring where fresh water has likely dripped for centuries. As NPR's Emily Harris reports, this idyllic scene has become a battleground in the slow, deadly struggle for control of the West Bank.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Bashir Tamimi squats in the low cave where the spring trickles out of the hillside. He scoops up a handful of water from as close to the source as possible for a cool drink on a hot day. Bashir is 57 years old. He inherited this spring and farmlands just below from his father, who inherited it from his father. Bashir lives across the road and up the hill in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh. But he rarely makes it to the spring anymore.
BASHIR TAMIMI: (Through Translator) At the end of 2008, settlers kicked out the farmers who were using my land. We went to the Israeli authorities and they actually removed a fence that the settlers had put up and said: This is Palestinian land. But the settlers did not give up the spring.
HARRIS: Israelis moved into this area 35 years ago, more than a decade after Israel captured the territory in the 1967 War. The settlement of Halamish, also known as Nevetzuf, hugs the hilltop above the spring.
Shifra Blass came here when her husband became the community rabbi. What Bashir calls a takeover of his land, she calls teenagers making something out of nothing.
SHIFRA BLASS: The kids were always looking for something to do in the summer. And when they saw that there was water coming out over there, it was very exciting.
HARRIS: The young Israelis cemented rocks into low walls to catch the water into pools. They brought picnic tables, planted passion fruit vines and built a structure for shade.
S. BLASS: This is the spring that's creating the international incident. That's why Nabi Saleh complains that they have no life. The truth is we have given them life because they have a performance every Friday...
S. BLASS: ...in which they complain about our spring. And journalists come from all over the world and anarchists - by their own definition - come from all over and celebrate with them the fact that we have a picnic table here and we have a few little puddles of water.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRE)
HARRIS: Every Friday afternoon, people from Nabi Saleh with many outside supporters leave the village and try to march to the spring. Some threw rocks at Israeli soldiers who are trying to stop the march. The soldiers shoot tear gas, spray water that stinks like sewage, and sometimes fire rubber-coated bullets. Soldiers have killed two Palestinians in over three years of demonstrations.
(SOUNDBITE OF YELLING)
HARRIS: Soldiers also have enforced an Israeli ruling order against the settler development of the spring. The Israeli teenagers were told to take down their first shade structure because it was deemed too permanent and was built without a permit. A canvas is now stretched across poles for shade. Meanwhile, the Israeli administration that controls this part of the West Bank did an archaeological survey of the spring area. Because of this, Bashir's relatives can't farm it and Israel may declare the land an historic site.
B. TAMIMI: (Through Translator) As usual, they put a religious envelope to every claim that they make. Their claim is that this spring is holy water, sacred water which the Jews need in order for the women to purify themselves.
(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)
HARRIS: The Palestinians call the spring al-Qaws. The Israelis have put up signs labeling it Meir's Spring, named after one of the settlement founders.
Twenty-seven-year-old Yehuda Blass grew up in the settlement. He says the young people who made a trickle of water into a lovely gathering place created a legacy.
YEHUDA BLASS: I feel the heritage is, if you believe in something you should make an effort to make it come true, and it will make a difference.
HARRIS: Twenty-three-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, from Nabi Saleh, completely agrees.
MOHAMMED TAMIMI: After we began our demonstration, we feel we are not alone in this conflict. We have the power to do something.
HARRIS: He says maybe more people will die here but he's not afraid.
M. TAMIMI: Why to afraid? We have nothing to lose because the life is not very, very nice here.
HARRIS: Bashir's family is still in court over the spring. Demonstrations continue every Friday. If Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ever get to a deal, the lines negotiators draw on a map would change the lives of people on this land.
Emily Harris, NPR News.