BATTIR -- Everything is green in this small Palestinian village next to Israel. The winter vegetables of cabbage, zucchini, and cucumbers are green. The pool that holds the community’s water is green. And the agricultural terraces that have been here for thousands of years are green.
But residents here worry that gray is about to destroy the green – the gray of the separation barrier that Israel wants to build in a valley running between the terraces. That barrier would also make it almost impossible for farmers to access much of their land. More than half of Battir’s farming land is in Israel and for decades, farmers have had a special arrangement to enable them to access their lands.
“This village represents peace – we have not had any violent incidents here,” Battir Mayor Akram Bader told The Media Line. “Now they want to build the 'separation wall' here. This 'wall' will destroy this heritage site and a 2500-year-old water system.”
He said the eight main families of Battir each take water from the spring one day a week.
“Battir is the only place in the world where the week lasts eight days,” he joked.
This village of 5000 is on the short list to be declared a United Nations World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the next few months. Environmental activists fear that the barrier could destroy the site. They recently invited activists to come to Battir to raise awareness of the issue.
“On the one hand we’re here to celebrate these incredible terraces – five thousand years of human heritage before our very eyes,” Gidon Bromberg, the Israel Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) told The Media Line. “On the other hand we come here in trepidation because there’s a threat that the separation barrier will cut through this area and destroy the integrity of this location that is not only Palestinian heritage and Israeli heritage but world heritage. Battir doesn’t divide us – it brings us together.”
About 150 Israelis joined the villagers for a short concert by well-known Israeli pop star Ahinoam Nini.
“I’m here because I believe in the preservation of nature,” Nini told The Media Line. “I believe in people working together crossing the barriers of race and religion and fighting for a common cause. Destroying such a pearl of nature would be irreversible.”
Despite the cold wind, Nini was warmly welcomed by the crowd. She told them she had recently returned from a series of concerts in Germany, and every concert was “a miracle” that Israel and Germany were able to overcome the trauma of the Holocaust. She urged the crowd never to give up hope.
“As Israelis and Palestinians we tend to sometimes fall into despair and believe that our situation can never be resolved, that we will never be able to build bridges. I don’t believe that’s true. I think it’s just a matter of truly believing and acting upon this belief, and we can and will make a difference in this region.”
Nini’s words seem almost prophetic. Two days after the event in Battir, the Israeli Supreme Court accepted the petition from FOEME and ordered the army to present an alternative route for the barrier within 90 days.
“We are convinced that due to the unique nature of the area under discussion there is a need for security officials to reconsider, in particular as regards the nature of the barrier and security arrangements of the problematic areas (area of the terraces),” said the Supreme Court decision.
Bromberg said he was “delighted” with the decision, and hopes that it means the agricultural terraces of Battir will be around for another 4000 years.