UNESCO heritage site under threat

In the far corner of the Bethelehem Governate is the village of Battir. Battir is a very special place, one rich in history and heritage going back to pre Roman times. Indeed this heritage and culture is so rich that it has been awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site – details of the area and the project can be found on the UNESCO site here. Bethlehem Team 53 have been linking with local contacts in relation to this site and to recent development in relation to the continued building of the Separation Wall.


UNESCO World Heritage site of Battir

Alongside its ancient heritage the area has more recent history too as the village sits perched on the edge of the Green Line, the 1949 Armistice line that represents the internationally accepted border. Along this line the Israeli government has planned to route the separation wall, building it through the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site, destroying what has been recognized as deserving of special recognition and protection.

The building of the wall will have a significant negative impact on the area in a variety of ways. Firstly the wall would have a significant negative impact on the flora and fauna of the area and undermine its strength as an agricultural area. The village is bordered on one side by an Ottoman empire train line that in the ceasefire agreement in 1949 was held by the Israelis but the lands on the other side remained the property of the villagers who to this day farm and cultivate the land. The building of this wall will cut off the villagers from their land and from their source of income and food. The wall would also destroy the history and preserved untouched heritage of the village.

It is claimed by the Israeli government that this wall is needed for security purposes. While this claim is frequently made about the wall in general it is particularly untrue in this region. Since the Armistice of 1949 there has been no violence or security problems in this area, there has never been any interference with Israel or with the trains and the train line. Locals tell us that Israel has installed a network of cameras that scan the area and use a variety of cameras including infra-red cameras to police this area is an effective way, when they go to work their feilds within minutes soldiers have arrived having been alerted by the cameras.

On July 29th the Israeli court heard further petitions on the case in the light of the UNESCO decision, and put the issue back to the Cabinet to decide. The Attorney General of Israel has argued that regardless of the UNESCO status that Israel can and should continue with the building of the separation wall. However we have been told by our local contacts that at a cabinet meeting in mid September a vote on the issue was postponed and the cabinet have decided not to decide, at least not decide at this point in time. As such the future of the area remains in jeopardy.

The separation wall has been declared illegal in an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice . Should this section of the separation wall be built it will not only be overriding human rights, it will also have the dubious honour of destroying world cultural heritage.