UNESCO names West Bank’s Battir a protected World Heritage Site

Both Palestinian villagers and Jewish settlers say stone terraces threatened by Israel’s plan to build separation wall

UNESCO has granted World Heritage Site status to ancient terraces in the West Bank after Palestinian residents of the village and neighboring Jewish settlers formed an unlikely alliance against Israel’s plan to construct part of a separation wall there, local news reported Monday.

The village of Battir, just south of Jerusalem, is famous for its stone terraces and Roman-era irrigation system that its residents still use for their crops. Israel had planned to construct part of a 25-foot-high concrete wall topped with razor wire, used to separate Israelis and Palestinians, through the village.

Palestinian officials submitted an emergency nomination before UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, held its annual World Heritage Committee conference in Qatar. Villagers and settlers alike worried the barrier would destroy the unique landscape, damage ancient olive trees and dry up local springs.

“The site is inscribed. Congratulations to Palestine,” committee chairwoman Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said according to Maan news website. The Palestinian territories have one other UNESCO site: Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

Palestinians had unlikely allies in their struggle to preserve the site, as neighboring Jewish settlers also opposed the wall’s construction there.

Israeli media reported that the villagers received backing from Kfar Etzion Field School in the Etzion settlement bloc, who said they hoped the move would prevent the Israeli government from constructing the wall there.

Yaron Rosenthal, director of the Field Schools, said that “a UNESCO decision to recognize Battir as a World Heritage Site will greatly assist our efforts to halt the separation fence, which will cause tremendous environmental damage.”

The settlers said the barrier was started 10 years ago under security circumstances that are no longer relevant. 

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