Battir, in the Bethlehem hills a few miles from Jerusalem, is famous for its terraced hills built by hand over millennia. The fertile lands of the Palestinian village are filled with vegetables, fruit crops and olive groves, fed by natural spring water which flows through Roman irrigation systems, built more than 2,000 years ago.
However, Sky News’ Middle East News Editor, Tom Rayner, reports from Jerusalem that Israel’s Defence Ministry wants to extend the separation barrier – which in some areas nearby is an eight-metre-high concrete wall (below) and would divide the village from around 35% of its ancestral land.
Residents of Battir were guaranteed continued access to the land by the Israeli state after the 1948 war, in return for a pledge that the railway which runs along the line would not be vandalised. Now, however, Israel’s Defence Ministry has told the Supreme Court in Jerusalem a court that it has “no alternative” but to extend the separation barrier and divide the land of the West Bank village of Battir.
Israeli opposition to the plan
The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority has backed the village’s appeal against the Defence Ministry’s planned routing of the barrier – the first time one arm of the Israeli state has publicly opposed another on this matter.
At earlier court hearings Israel’s Defence Ministry insisted residents of Battir would still be able to access the land through special security gates and that the barrier would take the form of a fence, rather than a wall, but Gidon Bromberg, an Israeli spokesman for Friends of the Earth Middle East, said such a plan risked the cultural and environmental importance of the land:
“This site is so unique that we must protect it, not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for humankind as a whole. We can meet the legitimate security concerns by alternative means.”
A final ruling in the case of Battir, and other villages in the Bethlehem area, has been delayed to a later date.