Battir in West Bank named ‘Palestine’s’ second World Heritage site

PA concerned about area’s terraces where Israel has routed its security barrier and hopes designation will foil barrier's construction.

A view of the West Bank village of Battir. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A view of the West Bank village of Battir.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The ancient agricultural terrace of the West Bank village of Battir on Friday became the second World Heritage site registered under “Palestine.”
The World Heritage Committee placed the village – located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military control – on its list during its meeting in Doha, Qatar, that began on June 15 and is to end on June 25.
It was the first of 36 sites that the committee is debating this session.
There is also to be a vote to register to Israel the ancient caves of Tel Maresha and Beit Guvrin, which are located near Beit Shemesh and Latrun.
The World Heritage Committee can vote to register sites to “Palestine,” since it was accepted as a member state of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011.
In June 2012, the Palestinian Authority registered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to the World Heritage List under an emergency procedure.
It used this same procedure to bring the issue of Battir to a vote. The PA is particularly concerned about Battir – because Israel routed its security barrier through the Nahal Refaim valley where the terraces are located.
Such construction would harm the terraces, which date back 2,000 years to the Roman era.
The PA said it hopes Battir’s placement on the list will foil those efforts.
There is a High Court of Justice petition against the route.
Also on Friday, The World Heritage Committee placed Battir on its list of endangered sites.
In a statement to the press the committee mentioned the problem of the security barrier. It said that the “landscape had become vulnerable under the impact of sociocultural and geopolitical transformations that could bring irreversible damage to its authenticity and integrity.”
The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter.
The PA’s Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Ma’ayah said that the UNESCO votes show the site’s significance as one of the best examples of a terraced landscape in an area of human habitation that dates back over 4,000 years.
The Ministry said that Battir was one of many Palestinian heritage sites that are threatened by Israel and in need of international intervention.
Battir resident Raed Samara said that people in his village were satisfied with the vote.
“There is Palestinian and International awareness but we are afraid and doubt because Israel do not conform to UN and international resolutions. We hope this time Israel will not build the wall,” he said.
Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli Director at Friends of the Earth Middle East, said: “At this difficult moment of continued violence in the region, Battir remains a ray of hope for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians toward a better future.”
His organization has worked to stop Israel from routing the barrier through the terraces.
Nader Khateeb, Friend of Earth Middle East’s Palestinian director said: “Friend of Earth Middle East now awaits the decision of the High Court of Israel as to whether the court will prevent the building of the separation barrier and accept Friend of Earth Middle East’s petition that there are alternative means to maintain security without destroying what is officially, as of yesterday, a site of World Heritage to all of humanity.”
Reuters contributed to this report.