Wednesday, November 25, 2020

PA files emergency procedure to recognize Battir as UNESCO-site

By Jan Walraven - February 18, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Battir] [UNESCO World Heritage Site]

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has to begin its deliberations as to whether the the village Battir should be classified as a World Heritage Site.  Considerations began 31 January after the Palestinian Authority (PA) filed a last-minute emergency procedure to register the village on UNESCO's list of protected sites. 
This emergency procedure is designed for places that are in acute danger. The PA’s application comes as an attempt to prevent Israel’s planned construction of its separation wall directly through Battir, which would destroy large swaths of the historic site. UNESCO-officials will visit the site later this year, as part of the application procedure. 
The PA’s move comes as a surprise, as its previous application was put on hold in June 2013 owing to the renewed US-sponsored peace talks with Israel. As part of the negotiations, the PA was directed to refrain from making any unilateral moves in any UN body, including UNESCO.
Like some other Israeli media-outlets, Haaretz speculates that the emergency procedure for Battir "may signify that the Palestinians are preparing for the possibility that Kerry will not succeed in formulating a framework agreement, (...) that peace talks will blow up and not be extended beyond 29 April."
UNESCO is to reach its final decision on the matter by 25 June 2014 at the latest, the last day of the World Heritage Committee's conference in Doha, Qatar. If recognized, it would make Battir the second UNESCO-site to be registered in Palestine, next to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
Endangered by the wall
Battir sits directly next to the Israeli-controlled Hijaz Railway just west of Bethlehem. The unique Palestinian village is host to one of the most beautiful sights in the West Bank, as it is the last place in the Judean hills to practice traditional terraced agriculture, a technique dating back to Roman times. Furthermore, the residents of Battir are the only Palestinians allowed to cultivate farmland located west of the Green Line, in what is now Israeli territory, as long as they don't damage the Hijaz railway they have to cross. This was agreed upon in the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Agreements, showing what value both the Palestinians and Israelis attach to the site.
Nonetheless, Battir is indeed an endangered village. As reported earlier by The Palestine Monitor, Israel is planning to build its separation wall "directly through the terraces, destroying not just an agricultural landmark, but also the way of life the people of Battir have held on to for over 2000 years." 
Israel claims to be building the wall in the area in order to secure the railway, putting aside the Rhodes Armistice Agreements. 
When the Israeli government proposed an "agricultural gate" to provide access to their lands, farmers did not accept the proposal, as they didn't believe the Israeli army would keep to the promised access.
The villagers have been battling the plans in Israeli courts for many years, but to no avail. Battir even enjoys some kind of support from Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, which has advised the Israeli High Court to divert the wall in order to protect the historic site.
The Palestine Monitor noted in May 2013 that "UNESCO’s recognition of Battir as a World Heritage site could be the only viable way to put an end to Israeli construction plans in the area.
"If the wall is going to be built according to plan, not only the historic character of Battir will be affected. The wall will also cut the village farmers off from about 3,000 dunams (740 acres) of their land, violating the previously named international agreement.”

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