Barrier Threatens Palestine's Ancient Landscape

A Palestinian village near Jerusalem boasts old stone-walled farming terraces and irrigation channels from Roman times, but planners of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank want to build a route through the rare historical landscape.
December 30, 2012, 9am PST | Jessica Hsu
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"This month, in response to petitions by villagers and the environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East, Israel's Supreme Court gave the Israeli defense ministry 90 days to come up with an alternative to the planned wall that would take into account 'the unique character of the area' around Battir," says Joel Greenberg. "In its ruling - a rare intervention by the Supreme Court in the barrier project - the court urged security officials to reconsider 'the nature of the divider and security arrangements' in the sensitive zone, which is a candidate for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site."

The defense ministry intend for the planned route to protect the Battir area from terrorist attacks and say that steps have been taken to minimize the project's impact, but conservation experts support the concerns of villagers and environmental advocates. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said the barrier would inflict "a would in the ancient landscape" and "cut the farmers off from their lands, leading to the destruction of the ancient farming culture." Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, said, "We're not against a security barrier in principle, but we're against building it in a cultural landscape site that requires protection."

The controversy over the barrier project recalls the armistice agreement signed in 1949 after Israel's war of independence. The farmers of Battir were allowed to continue cultivating their land as long as they did not harm the Israeli train route between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that runs along their village. Akram Bader, the mayor of Battir, said, "We take care of the border because we know we will be safe if Israel has security. We can do that without any physical barrier. Battir is a special case, and that's how it should be, a pilot project of peace."

Hat tip to Daniel Lippman.

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Published on Saturday, December 22, 2012 in The Washington Post
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