Palestinian village wins UNESCO listing in attempt to thwart planned security barrier

UNESCO rules that govt's planned security barrier through the village farmlands would "irreversibly" damage ancient stone terraces.

Security barrier 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Security barrier 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)

RAMALLAH - A Palestinian village joined UNESCO's world heritage sites list on Friday after an emergency nomination meant to try to block the government from building part of the security barrier across its ancient farmland.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation said the village was recognized urgently in view of "construction of a separation wall that may isolate farmers from fields they have cultivated for centuries".

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Qatar, added that the farmed valleys at the village in the West Bank near Jerusalem feature picturesque stone terraces that risk "irreversible damage" were the barrier to be constructed there.

Israel has stated that its security barrier of razor wire fences and concrete walls has been built across the West Bank for security reasons. Some of the work began in 2003 has yet to be completed.

Palestinians argue the barrier deprives them of land where they want to establish an independent state.

The emergency application was an example of the Palestinian leadership's recent strategy to join UN agencies and sign UN treaties to boost its claim to statehood, a move that lead to the dissolving of peace talks in May.

The UNESCO statement did not mention Israel, saying only that "the landscape had become vulnerable under the impact of socio-cultural and geo-political transformations."

In 2012, the High Court urged that the barrier in the Batir area be re-routed.

In the vote in Doha on Friday, 11 members of the committee supported listing Battir, three opposed the proposal and seven abstained.

Rula Ma'ayah, the Palestinian Authority's minister of tourism and antiquities, praised the decision, saying it guaranteed the village international protection against "allowing the Israeli occupation authorities to damage it".

The birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem is another site on UNESCO's list that is under the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction. The old city walls of Jerusalem are also a world heritage site.