- Title: WEST BANK: West Bank farming community threatened by Israeli barrier
- Date: 10th December 2013
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE) (REUTERS) ISRAELI BARRIER THAT LINES ROAD TO BETHLEHEM, NEAR BATTIR CARS DRIVING BY BARRIER VARIOUS OF BARRIER IN THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM BARRIER AS SEEN FROM UP CLOSE VARIOUS OF BARRIER ON MAIN ROAD FROM JERUSALEM TO BETHLEHEM
- Embargoed: 25th December 2013 12:00
- Location: West bank
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: International Relations,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVADQZAQK1KZLPZTJPOEXOJM2SA7
- Story Text: Battir, an ancient Palestinian farming community near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, is under threat of losing its ancient irrigation methods of its terraced agricultural fields, dating back a millennia, if Israel goes ahead with plans to expand its barrier.
Citing fear of armed Palestinian infiltrators who have struck inside Israel in the early 2000's, at the height of a Palestinian uprising, Israel Defence Ministry plans to fortify a fence protecting the train line at Battir with a wall.
The Tel Aviv to Jerusalem train runs nearby the village, along the 1949 armistice line and no man's land which today demarcates the West Bank.
Villagers say such a wall will irreversibly disrupt agriculture and wildlife at the site. With the help of Palestinian and Israeli activists, including from Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Nature and Parks Authority, the village petitioned Israel High Court against the building of the barrier.
Akram Bader, mayor of Battir said that the wall must not be built because it would irreparably destroy their ancient way of life and their source of income.
"The wall must not be built for several reasons, the wall will destroy this archaeological area that humans built thousands of years ago, therefore destroying it is a crime against the current generation and the generations to come, secondly it destroys the current environment. Thirdly, it will cut off the income of many of Battir's residents that live off this land," Bader told Reuters Television.
Some 30 percent of Battir's farmland is located beyond the Israeli railway, to which Palestinian residents secured free access under a decades-old arrangement with Israel.
In 2012, Israel's highest court urged defence officials to reroute the barrier.
Battir is inside territory Israel captured in a 1967 war that Palestinians seek for a state. Palestinian villagers say the barrier would irreversibly disrupt agriculture in their community.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the Israeli barrier, made largely of razor-wire fencing and partly of cement walls, was illegal. Israel disputes this.
"We as landowners can only seek official and international bodies in order to try to stop this destruction. We can only go to the Israeli High Court and official bodies like UNESCO that considers this area very important to world heritage," Bader said.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) honoured the village for its landscape in 2013, despite Israeli objections.
The Israeli army, representing the state in the Battir case, argued for the security benefits of the planned section by saying that two villagers were jailed in 2008 for planning to bomb a railway that runs by Battir.
Michael Sfard, the attorney representing the village, said they are currently arguing that Israel could perhaps consider building a "non-physical" barrier in order to avoid destroying the village.
"The state argues, as it does in other segments of the wall, that the fence, the separation fence, and walls are needed for security. This is an area where Palestinians could cross into Israel, this is their argument," Sfard told Reuters Television.
"What we argue is that because of the uniqueness of this area, the army should consider a non-physical barrier in the form of surveillance cameras and things of that sort."
The Israeli High Court is expected to make a decision on the fate of Battir on December 16.
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None