The Battir valley, a World Heritage UNESCO site, where the IDF had wanted to built 500 meters of the West Bank security barrier..
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday froze the planned construction of a 500-meter stretch of the security barrier in the West Bank through the World Heritage Site of Battir, because the Defense Ministry has no intention of building the structure designed to prevent suicide bombers from entering the Jerusalem area there.
Israelis and Palestinians hope the ruling finally ends their three-year battle to save the biblical-era agricultural terraces near the Palestinian village of Battir, whose low stone walls dot the landscape in the Nahal Refaim Valley linking Jerusalem with the Etzion Bloc.
The court’s ruling “is a great achievement for all those who hold dear the preservation of the cultural and environmental heritage of the area,” said Gideon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.
“Today the Supreme Court ended the deception and incompetence of the security establishment, which wanted to put a fence on this unique site, which has no parallel in the world.”
On Battir’s hills Palestinians today use the same irrigation technique that Canaanite farmers used to water their olive trees 4,000 years ago. Sightly more than 2,000 years ago, Shimon Bar-Kochba and his followers fought their last battle against the Romans nearby in what was then the Jewish village of Betar.
The Battir terraces also have particular significance for Palestinians, because they are the second site, after Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) registered to the “State of Palestine.”
In 2012, Palestinians from Battir and Friends of the Earth Middle East filed two separate petitions against the barrier that were later combined. The Gush Etzion Regional Council and the Gush Etzion Field School also became involved in the case.
In December 2014, the state told the High Court that the 500-meter stretch was not on its priority list. “The defense minister does not intend at this time to promote the completion of the said section of the barrier,” it told the court.
“There is no source of funding to carry out the above route in the following year .”
Nevertheless, the state reserved the right to build the barrier through the Nahal Refaim Valley in the future, saying it believes its route takes into account environmental objections raised by Friends of the Earth Middle East. Environmentalists and Palestinians from Battir have rejected that claim and argued that the area could be protected through with electronic surveillance equipment that would not harm the terraces or the valley.
The court also noted that the government had failed to vote to reauthorize the route in September, opting instead to continue to rely on the initial 2006 decision to build the barrier.
The justices closed the case, but did not bar the state from building the barrier in the area of Battir in the future. They warned the Defense Ministry it could not just pick up where it left off and would have to start the bureaucratic steps of notifying the relevant parties from the beginning if it decided to resume construction, and the Palestinians and the Friends of the Earth Middle East did not renew their objections at the time.
Akram Badir, head of Battir’s local council, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the court’s decision was “a victory for Palestine as whole.”