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Notes on the Geography of The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit

Ariel, one of the largest Israeli settlements on the West Bank, is flanked by two Palestinian villages, Deir Istiya to the north and Salfit to the south. Deir Istiya is remarkable because the center of the village is almost perfectly intact, which is why the village is being restored by the Palestinian archaeological authorities. Salfit is remarkable partly because it was a model village adopted by the British as a showcase for village development (see the folder called British Palestine) and partly because it has had to survive in recent years in the shadow of Ariel, which occupies lands formerly part of the village. Salfit is still a major olive producer on the West Bank and is proud of its progressive production methods. It's forgotten that it owes those methods to the British.

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The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 1

Much of Deir Istiya, but not all of it, is ruinous, like this structure, with the characteristic three-layer walls and domed ceilings of traditional West Bank houses. Locally abundant lime was burned to make mortar; the domes were built of stone and mortar supported during construction by a heap of massed branches and earth, removed when the mortar hardened. There is precious little wood in these houses, except for the doors; even the windows were arched so that beams were not required.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 2

Wall-to-wall stone hiding very private courtyards.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 3

A thoroughfare through the core of Deir Istiya. Roads surround the old village but do not penetrate it.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 4

A primitive house in need of repair but with unusual lintels, rather than arches, over the doors.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 5

Another house: newer, of dressed stone, and in slightly better condition.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 6

In 1940, a British planner named Henry Kendall chose Salfit, a village a couple of miles south of Deir Istiya, as the test case for some new ideas about village improvement. One of the things he did was straighten and pave village lanes, such as this one. A simple thing, easy to overlook. Under the lanes, he ran water pipes to replace the traditional and sometimes inadequate cisterns under or near every house. The central water tank that he put in the village still stands, fed by pipe from a nearby spring.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 7

Another of the Kendall lanes, with buried mains under the cemented trench. Note the unusual stone beam over the gate on the right: about the limit for stone, and inadequate if the wall above is high.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 8

In the folder called British Palestine there's a picture of one of the model homes introduced to Salfit by Kendall. Here's the traditional home with its tiny window and poor ventilation of smoke from an unvented central fireplace. The dry wall is unusual, but it illustrates the character of some West Bank limestone, which dissolves into knobby pits and protuberances.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 9

Vines have been trained to grow up to a rooftop pergola on a new house, which has the large windows suggested by Kendall. The bright color is not one of his ideas.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 10

Salfit seen from the south. The core of the village lies on the ridge, though recent growth has carried it back to the slopes beyond. On the distant ridge lies Ariel, a glimpse of which can be seen in the folder called Israeli Settlements. The foreground shows the garden of Salfit, a spring-fed and terraced valley that's in poor shape but which the municipality is seeking to restore.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 11

Looking from Salfit southward over the garden. The spring emantes from the block of stone this side of the house and corresponds to the highest irrigated land, marked by the intensity of greenery. The authorities of Salfit are well aware that the house should not have been built where it stands. In fact it violates the village's zoning code, inherited from the British. The explanation is that it was built during the first Intifada, when Salfit residents faced so many problems that they turned a blind eye to this house, rather than create a problem for one of their own.

The West Bank: Deir Istiya and Salfit picture 12

Two steps back for each one forward? Just as the authorities were trying to capitalize on the village's handsome site, this education-department building was erected on the village's north slope.

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