The Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem: Battir
Information Sheet, 5th December 2013
A POTENTIAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Al-Jinan: the irrigated terraces of Battir in 1892 (courtesy of Palestine Exploration Fund) and today.
The agricultural landscape typo-morphological set-up, which justifies the inscription on the World Heritage List, is intact.
The Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem - Battir, characterized by extensive hand-built terracing and
ancient irrigation systems, in World Heritage terms is considered an organically evolved landscape. Within the
area are kilometers of dry-stone walls, necessary to hold the shallow soils on steep, stony slopes. This visually
spectacular landscape also contains many other elements: a prehistoric hilltop, fortifications, roman graves, villages
of ancient origin, fields of many different type and date, irrigation system and the features that made the landscape
work for people struggling to gain a livelihood from it. Old tracks, contemporary with the fields, wind between them;
among the fields and terraces are stone-houses, watchtowers, clearance cairns (rujoum) and steps and ramps
between the terraces. Overall, these things form a cultural landscape of considerable scientific interest and beauty.
Especially is this so in a Palestinian context where extents of such quality landscape have become quite rare under
the pressures of modern development.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value (World Heritage)
Olive trees and vineyards are characteristic, and deeply symbolic, features in the Palestinian cultural landscape.
While both of course grow elsewhere, separately and together they are highly representative of the identity and
character of the Palestinian landscape throughout history and of the ways that people have worked the land. Handbuilt terraces represent good examples of adapting to nature and making productive steep and uneven terrain.
They are very clear testimonies of the continuous history of human settlement in the region over the past four
thousands years. Furthermore, both plants feature strongly, in narrative and metaphor, in the Quran, in the Bible
and in the teaching of Jesus in particular. The olive is of course a symbol of peace and would, therefore, be a
particularly apposite tree to include in a nomination from Palestine.
In May 2012, the “Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” has been inscribed on official Palestine’s
Tentative List for World Heritage. Ref: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/state=ps
In February 2013, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has finalized the preparation of a Nomination
dossier for inscription of the site on the World Heritage List, according to the “Operational Guidelines for
implementation of the World Heritage Convention”.
PROGRESSIVE ISOLATION AND LOSS OF WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Map of the western Bethlehem area highlighting the route of the Separation Barrier (dotted red
line), existing (blue) and planned (dark red) settlements. Battir landscape area is marked in grey.
Historically, Battir was connected to main Palestinian cities (Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron) and was known
as Jerusalem’s “vegetable basket”. After 1948, Battir progressively disconnected from Jerusalem, especially after
the closure of the railway station, which constituted a fundamental trait d’union between the villages and the rest of
the Palestinian territory. After 1967, this area witnessed the progressive establishment of the so-called “Etzion
Block”. Israeli unilateral policies and measures in the area, in the past two decades, reinforced this trend: the
encirclement of the villages and their territory, the progressive expansion of infrastructures for settlements, the new
mobility system being implemented through the separation of roads, were all elements leading to the “enclavisation”
of the area. This process triggered an increasing socio-economic crisis due to the expropriation and abandonment
of agricultural land, reduction of fresh water availability, increasing dependence on migrants’ remittances.
In early 2000s the Government of Israel started to build a “Separation Barrier” in the West Bank, which actually
surrounds Bethlehem and is de facto creating a progressive isolation of the area of Battir and neighbouring
villages from the city of Bethlehem.
As of today, a segment of the Separation Barrier is planned to be constructed in Battir, affecting its land, its
heritage, its ancient human-made landscape, and depriving its inhabitants from connection to Bethlehem
infrastructures and services. These measures, if completed, would result in the absolute isolation of the area from
the West Bank and in the irreversible loss of a potential World Heritage site important to both Palestinians and
Israelis. It is clear that the implementation of the barrier and segments of wall, as visible in the neighbouring village
of Al-Walajeh, is a major factor of devastation of environmental and cultural assets in the Holy Land.
ISRAELI HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE ORDERS ISRAELI MILITARY TO
HALT BUILDING OF SEPARATION WALL IN BATTIR
In December 2012, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice (IHCJ) to
stop the Israeli military from building the Separation Barrier across an area, which is enlisted on Palestine’s
Tentative List for World Heritage. The FoEME petition follows the petition of the Battir Village Council to the High
In May 2013, FoEME and the Battir Village Council turned to IHCJ and obtained an interim injunction to stop the
separation barrier from proceeding to be built. In an unprecedented case the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority
joined the objection to the barrier proposed by the Israeli military. This is how the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority
responded to the military: “The building of the fence (separation barrier) as currently proposed by the respondents
(a 3.5 meters high bolstered metal fence along a 500 meter segment) does not adequately balance, as required,
the range of conflicting interests, and does not adequately address the wide and irreversible damage that will be
caused to the natural, landscape, and heritage values that exist in the area.
The Israeli military remains unconvinced as to the merit of the environmental claim and is determined to build the
barrier, despite undisputed expert opinion given that the proposed barrier will destroy the heritage values of the
site. The case returns to the High Court for final decision on 16 December 2013.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS ON BATTIR
In 1949, King Abdallah of Jordan and Moshe Dayan signed an agreement, known as Rodhes Agreeement, which
reaffirms the ownership of land by Battir people beyond the Armistice Line. As of today, Palestinian farmers from
Battir cultivate their land without any reported incident in the area.
In 1999, the British Museum acquired the Warren Cup is an ancient Roman silver drinking cup decorated in
relief, dated to the time of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (1st century AD), found in Battir at the beginning of XX
In 2011, Battir has been awarded the first prize ex-aequo of the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International
Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes. The Jury statement reads as follows:
“While the geopolitical situation of the occupied territory poses evident risks and limitations to the sustainability of
any activities, one can be confident that the past and current support by international bodies will also be continued
in the future in order to help stabilizing the long-term implementation of activities such as those proposed in this
nomination. The safeguarding and management activities carried out at this site comply with international standards
and are clearly based on an integrated approach that links the safeguarding of the natural and cultural, tangible and
intangible values of the site through community-based action with a view to enhancing the environmental, social
and economic relevance with and for its inhabitants. The exemplarity of the activities has a particular value in the
light of this complex geopolitical situation that does not necessarily favor simple access to international markets, the
stabilization of law enforcement or setting priorities on longer-term safeguarding measures.”
In 2013, the Ancient Irrigated Terraces of Battir have been enlisted in the 2014 World Monument Watch, because
of the threats that menace the site. The Battir Landscape Eco-museum opened to the public its Guest House,
to support socio-economic development in the area, in line with the safeguarding and valorization of its cultural
landscape. 20 Km of hiking trails have been rehabilitated to enable hikers from all over the world enjoying the
scenery of such a landscape.
The final High Court Hearing on the case of the Separation Barrier in the area of Battir has been rescheduled
for JANUARY 29th, 2014, at 12:30 p.m.