A terraced valley at Battir. Photo: Andrea Moroni via Flickr.
Palestine's Battir terraces accorded World Heritage protection
25th June 2014
An ancient system of irrigated terraces in Palestine's West Bank have been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site against strong opposition from Israel - which wants to build its 'separation wall' across Battir, cutting Palestinian farmers from their land.
The main potential threat to the property is a plan by Israeli authorities to construct a physical barrier. This would prohibit access by Battir farmers to their lands.
In a rare sweet victory for Palestinians, UNESCO has granted endangered World Heritage status to the renowned ancient terraces and irrigation systems of Battir - a West Bank village about 7km south of Jerusalem, long under threat of destruction by Israel's separation wall.
The UN cultural agency's World Heritage Committee gathering in Doha voted to grant the protected status to the agricultural community, which straddles the 'Green Line' where Israel plans to erect part of the barrier.
According to the Gulf Times, the granting of the status is likely to boost the efforts of local residents locked in a high-profile court battle in Israel to change the route of the barrier.
Shuli Davidovich, leader of Israel's delegation, denounced the vote as "a dark day in the heritage of Unesco", adding: "We regret that the committee failed to fight the politicisation" of the debate.
A narrow majority
The narrow vote for the preservation of Battir - likely the only thing that could save it from omnipotent Israeli claims of "security" - came after:
- an emergency nomination by Palestinian officials,
- a concerted effort by international human rights clinics and law schools, and
- a letter from over 50 experts around the world proclaiming the Battir landscape "a contemporary cultural and archaeological gem."
UNESCO ruled that this "land of olives and vines" had "become vulnerable under the impact of socio-cultural and geo-political transformations (that) could bring irreversible damage."
"The main potential threat to the property is a plan by Israeli authorities to construct a physical barrier. This would prohibit access by Battir farmers to their lands."
'A courageous decision'
After the decision, Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, applauded a ruling that would be "etched in the memory of my people ... Today you have taken a courageous decision against confinement, exclusion and domination."
The Palestinians won UNESCO membership in October 2011 against strong oppostion from the US and Israel. It quickly moved to submit a number of sites for recognition.
These included an emergency application for Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, which was approved in June the following year against strong Israeli objections.
For a sense of what has long been at stake at Battir, see the beautiful short film 'The Villagers on the Line'.
And mazel tov to the people of Battir!
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