39b The village of Battir

We spent one night in Battir and we made a day-long hike through the surrounding area. Battir is a Palestinian village, west of Bethlehem with about 5000 inhabitants. The green line, the border between Israel and Palestine, runs right through the farmland of the village. During the war of 1948/Nakba the inhabitants did not leave the village, it was never occupied. The railway line from Jaffa to Jerusalem runs through Battir, 8 kilometres from Jerusalem. After the war a special arrangement was made during the negotiations about the demarcation line, the so called green line. The agreement implied that if the villagers promised not to interfere with the railway, then they were allowed to work on their land on the other side of the green line, in Israel. The villagers kept their side of the agreement, there has not been any incident.

irrigation chanelrailway line Jaffa to JerusalemBattir is located on the slopes of the hills and there are seven natural springs. Most of these springs give water throughout the year. Terraces have been built on the slopes and a network of irrigation canals was constructed, so that each terrace can be supplied with water. Maintenance of the irrigation system and the procedures to distribute the water to the land of all the farmers requires organisation and cooperation.

Because of this unique village organisation and the presence of some villagers with a vision, a school for girls was founded in the fifties.

Already for two thousand years the farmers in Battir used to work on the terraces. Some of the terrace walls date back to the Byzantine time, so long before our era.  An application has been submitted to UNESCO for recognition of Battir as a World Heritage site. A couple of times Israel carried out excavations to find out whether in the past  Battir might have been home to Jews. The last excavation was in 2005, when a big piece of land was closed off for the excavations, without the required results. There were, however, indications of Byzantine remains of buildings. Reason enough for Israel to stop their research.

footpathsettlement in the area of BattirSome time ago Battir was awarded a prize by UNESCO for its special heritage approach. A lot of energy is put in maintaining the terraces and the irrigation network. On the slopes of the hills and across the terraces a network of footpaths is laid out. Our hike followed these footpaths. Hassan, the guide, gives extensive clarification about the irrigation system, the landscape, the history and about plans and possibilities for the preservation of the village and its surroundings.

Threats for the village and surroundings are plenty. Battir is surrounded by Israeli settlements which are continuously expanded. But that is not all. Israel plans to construct the separation wall through Battir, alongside the existing railway track. The argument is security for Israel and for the settlers in the surrounding settlements. But the villagers claim it to be nonsense. For more than sixty years there have not been any incidents with the railway track, so all these years the villagers took care of security. And the only conclusion is that the separation wall serves to confiscate Palestinian land.

terracescut down tree but fully grown againThe villagers object to the route of the wall and with specialist legal support a case was submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice. Soon the court will decide. If the wall will be constructed as planned, the consequence will be that a large part of the village’s agricultural land will be at the other side of the wall and access will become difficult. A gate in the wall will mean that farmers have to obtain special permits to pass, as is the case with all gates anywhere in the wall. Also irrigation will be affected and the heavy equipment needed for the construction of the wall will damage the terraces. Plans for the construction of the wall are also rejected by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. Their argument is that the open character of the area will be negatively affected. The exchange within flora and fauna will be hampered, implying environmental damages. The gazelle cannot cross the wall.

Battir suggested an alternative route for the wall: if security for Israel is the real argument, then the construction should take place, not on Palestinian land, but on Israeli soil.

Our hike was a very good experience; with every step we enjoyed the surroundings, the panorama and the enthusiasm of Hassan. We admired the irrigation channels and listened to the explanation about the distribution of water. Hassan did not tire from answering questions and giving explanations. His enthusiasm about future plans for the village is infectious. An early breakfast and a late lunch were served at his aunt’s place, a relaxed atmosphere with neighbours and relatives passing by to greet or to join at the table.

Contacts in Battir: guide Hassan:  Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft JavaScript nodig om het te kunnen zien.   tel: 0525 897 437; Wisam Owaineh (manager of ecomuseum): Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft JavaScript nodig om het te kunnen zien.  or Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft JavaScript nodig om het te kunnen zien. http://www.battirecomuseum.org/   

Above the village on the slope we came to an olive grove. In the eighties the Israeli army had cut some of the trees. In the course of years these trees started to grow again. Now, thirty years later they are fully grown trees and according to Hassan providing a good annual harvest. An apt symbol for the resilience of Battir and its inhabitants, people who do not give up. In the last weeks we encountered more of such examples of perseverance (sumud): an eighty year old man in Kafar Birem showing us around in his destroyed village; farmers around Bethlehem continuing working their fields and planting olive trees in spite of all the opposition; the Jahalin Bedouins who value education for their children so much that they construct additional classrooms, knowing that army bulldozers may come to demolish; and on the last day before flying home a demonstration in Jaffa, organised by young Palestinians, urging the Israeli government to free all political prisoners and to abandon the system of administrative detention.


For us it were inspiring visits, these last weeks.


February 2013