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Battir: A world Heritage Site with the Unique Landscape Terraces and Roman Water System Mohammed T. Obidallah Water and Environmental specialist M.Obidallah@gmail.com

Battir Valley: Landscape Terraces th

On October, 8 2014 the 'World Monument Fund' identified Battir's ancient irrigated terraced landscape as an endangered cultural site, because of plans to build the separation barrier through the middle of the Battir landscape. Battir has an estimated population of 6,000 inhabitants. Only 8 KM from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, , residents of the Palestinian village of Battir practice an ancient agricultural water-use technique dating back to the Roman Period. Agricultural terraces, which were developed to take advantage of natural mountain springs, cover 20 KM² around the village where residents cultivate produce for their livelihoods and sustenance. Battir is a very ancient agricultural landscape. The historical stonewall terraces and unique irrigation system date back to the Roman era. It testifies to 4000 years of terraced cultivation which is fed by seven, abundant natural springs. The springs are worked as a cooperative by the eight main extended families of Battir. Within the property are kilometers of hand-built terrace walls, necessary to hold the shallow soils on steep, stony slopes; vegetables once grew on these terraces, now they provide the slopes for row of olives. Olives also grow in groves. This visually spectacular landscape also contains many other elements: a prehistoric hilltop, fortifications, roman graves, villages of ancient origin, fields of many different type and date, irrigation system and the features that made the landscape work for people struggling to gain a livelihood from it. Old tracks, contemporary with the fields, wind between them; among the fields and terraces are stone-houses, watchtowers, clearance cairns (rujoum) and steps and ramps between the terraces. Overall, these things form a cultural landscape of considerable scientific interest and beauty. Especially is this so in a Palestinian context where extents of such quality landscape have become quite rare under the pressures of modem


development. In 2011, Battir won the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (UNESCO Greece).

Roman Water Collection Reservoir (Pool)

Part of the Water Canal System

As part of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Oslo II), the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, was divided into Areas A, B and C. Nowadays, 66% of the area of Bethlehem Governorate and around 90% of Battir remain in Area C, where Israel retains full control and jurisdiction over planning and construction. This situation severely affects the livelihood of the inhabitants of the area, the access to land and the availability of water, urban planning and the safeguarding of Battir cultural landscape. Historically, Battir connected to the main Palestinian cities of the area (Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron) and were known as the “the vegetable basket” by Palestinians for their agricultural production as the main economic activity and source of income. After 1948, Battir was progressively disconnected from Jerusalem, especially after the closure of the railway station in Battir, which constituted main connection between Battir and the surrounding villages and the rest of the Palestinian territory. After 1967, this area witnessed the progressive establishment of the so-called “Etzion Block”. Israeli unilateral policies and measures in the area, in the past two decades, reinforced this trend: the squeeze of the villages and their territory, the progressive expansion of infrastructures for settlements, the new mobility system being implemented through the separation of roads were all elements leading to the “enclavisation” of the whole West Bethlehem villages including Battir. This process triggered an increasing socio-economic crisis due to the expropriation and abandonment of agricultural land, reduction of fresh water availability, increasing


dependence on migrants’ remittances. Furthermore, in early 2000s the Government of Israel started to build a “Separation Barrier” in the West Bank, which actually surrounds the Bethlehem urban area and is progressively isolating the battir and the surrounding villages west to Bethlehem from the city of Bethlehem. More specifically, another segment of the Barrier is planned in the area west of Bethlehem affecting their connection to Bethlehem infrastructures and services. These measures, if further implemented on the ground, would result in the complete isolation of the area from the West Bank.

In 2004 Israel began building the separation barrier wall, after objections from Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) jointly with Battir Village Council, the original route near Battir had already been changed. In 2007, Battir both brought suit in the Israeli Supreme Court (ISC) and requested Israel’s Finance Ministry to consider rerouting the wall. On December 13th, 2012, the ISC issued an interim decision ordering the Israeli Defense Ministry to submit plans for an alternate route for the wall in the Battir area within ninety days, necessitating consideration of the environmental impacts of the route. The Israeli Defense Ministry has proposed a fence, rather than a stone wall, as a compromise that it says will reduce damage to the landscape. Battir and conservation experts maintain that a fence will cause the same harm as a stone wall. The ISC has yet to issue a final decision. While the interim decision is only a temporary win for the residents of Battir, it marks the latest case demonstrating the exception to the military security rule. Perhaps, this decision signals a shift from the ISC’s military security rule to the consideration of water and environmental security concerns. The final decision will be extremely significant for Battir, and potentially for the jurisprudence of national security. Regardless of the final outcome, the interim decision mandating consideration of ecological impacts is an achievement in the continued struggle for recognition of water and environmental security as an integral part of national security. The “Battir Landscape Conservation and Management Plan”, developed by UNESCO in cooperation with local stakeholders, as well as its preliminary research, conducted in the area of Battir, already highlighted the potential of natural and cultural heritage values of the targeted Battir area. Battir has share an extremely articulated system of values that constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian cultural diversity and identity as well as a source for economic, social and cultural valorization of the area of traditional terracing system, A system of vegetable gardens within irrigated terraces, channels and pools in the proximity of springs; A variety of rain-fed cultivations (fruit and olive trees, field crops) including multicentenary monumental trees; Wild flora and fauna (active re-naturalization processes on-going in the abandoned terraces);Historical cores; and archaeological sites and features. Only by addressing the interconnections between this articulated system of values and its endangering factors this unique environment may be protected, its landscape and cultural heritage safeguarded and the livelihoods of its inhabitants ameliorated.

November 2013, Mohammed Obidallah

Battir - Palestine Obidallah november 2013 (1)  

Battir has an estimated population of 6,000 inhabitants. Only 8 KM from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, , residents of the Palestinian village of Batt...

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