Ancient stone-walled terraces and a unique natural irrigation system in the village of Battir near Bethlehem may have been spared destruction from an Israeli metal and concrete separation barrier. This is particularly good news as the unique agricultural landscape is soon to be declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. In a provisional ruling last Thursday, the Israeli High Court of Justice agreed that the Israeli state must come up with an alternative to constructing the separation wall through the village in order to prevent damage to its ancient agricultural terraces. Friends of the Earth Middle East and the residents of Battir both filed a petition stating that the concrete separation wall would cause irreversible damage to the unique agricultural terraces.
The decision by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority to support the case at the last minute is believed to have bolstered the case that protecting the site was in the public interest.”The barrier will destroy the cultural and natural heritage of Battir,” said Gidon Bromberg, director of Friends of the Earth Middle East to The Guardian. “International and Israeli experts believe this area is worthy of protection. It’s all about preserving the way things have been done for thousands of years.”
Battir is believed to be one of the earliest examples of terraced agriculture. Around a billion stones were collected generation after generation with the terrace repaired every winter and slowly expanded. Most of the terraces lie within the Israeli side of the border although some terraces run within the West Bank. According to the Guardian, the terraces stretch more than 325 hectares and trees and crops are water by a natural irrigation system dating back to the Roman era. This channels water from seven springs and is operated by a co-operative of the eight main extended families of the village.
The decision by the Israeli High Court was understandably met with praise. “We’re pleased the court urged the Defense Ministry to reconsider the security options to form a balance of interests combining the protection of Battir’s terraces and a security alternative,” said Bromberg to Haaretz. The provisional ruling gives the state 90 days to reexamine the fence’s construction and the security arrangements. Sadly, the logic of the separation barrier remains unquestioned and so an alternative to the problematic section of fence will be proposed.
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:: All images via Gillafiume./Flickr.