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The Land Is Our Mother: Protecting the Palestinian Terraces of Battir

by Abby Zimet

In a rare sweet victory for Palestinians, UNESCO has granted endangered World Heritage status to the renowned ancient terraces and irrigation systems of Battir, a West Bank village just south of Jerusalem long under threat of destruction by Israel's separation wall. The narrow vote for the preservation of Battir - likely the only thing that could save it from omnipotent Israeli claims  of "security" - came after an emergency nomination by Palestinian officials, a concerted effort by international human rights clinics and law schools, and a letter from over 50 experts around the world proclaiming the Battir landscape "a contemporary cultural and archaeological gem." UNESCO ruled its "land of olives and vines" had "become vulnerable under the impact of socio-cultural and geo-political transformations (that) could bring irreversible damage." After the decision, Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, applauded a ruling that would be "etched in the memory of my people...Today you have taken (a) courageous decision against confinement, exclusion and domination.” For a sense of what has long been at stake, see the beautiful short film "The Villagers on the Line." And mazel tov to the people of Battir.