UNESCO to weigh listing Battir as World Heritage site in 'Palestine'

Agricultural terraces would be second site in PA to be approved; Israeli official calls UNESCO votes 100% political.

Battir villiage 370 (photo credit: seth frantzman)
Battir villiage 370
(photo credit: seth frantzman)
UNESCO has agreed to a Palestinian request to consider registering the ancient agricultural terraces of the West Bank village of Battir on its World Heritage list as early as June of this year.
It is one of 41 worldwide sites the World Heritage Committee is expected to review and vote on when it meets in Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25.
Battir was included under an emergency procedure designed for endangered places, according to a spokesman for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Roni Amelan.
If it is approved, it would be the second site, after the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, to be registered to “Palestine” since UNESCO agreed in 2011 to recognize it as a state and award it full membership rights in the organization.
A group of UNESCO experts is expected to travel to Battir – southwest of Jerusalem – to view the site firsthand, as part of the application process.
Amelan cautioned that, in the months leading up to the June vote, sites can be dropped from the agenda and that the committee can also reject the request.
Placement of Battir’s agricultural terraces, dating back 2,000 years to the Roman era, would complicate Israeli plans to route the security barrier outside of Jerusalem through the Nahal Refaim valley where the terraces are located, as it would destroy some of them.
To prevent the destruction of the terraces a number of Israeli groups, including a branch of Friends of the Earth Middle East, have appealed to the High Court of Justice to find an alternative security solution.
At the end of January, the court added the Ministry of Transportation and Israel Railways to the case. It then asked Israel Railways to present a plan by February 27 to make use of the existing track in the valley for the barrier.
The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter.
The Palestinian Authority also had not commented by press time.
An Israeli official, however, charged that UNESCO votes with respect to Palestinian requests, such as the 2011 membership bid and registration of sites under “Palestine,” were political in nature.
“These votes are just a farce. They have nothing to do with any professional and cultural criteria. They are 100 percent political. The Palestinians have already hijacked UNESCO,” the official said.
Separately, the World Heritage Committee is also expected to vote in June on an Israeli application to register the Beit Guvrin caves, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as a World Heritage Site.
The vote to place sites on the World Heritage list will be made by 21 countries, including Algeria, Colombia, Croatia, Finland, Germany, India, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Serbia, Turkey, and Viet Nam.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.