UNESCO, the UN Education, Culture and Science Organization, will soon discuss a Palestinian request to implement emergency procedures to preserve the ancient terraces in the village of Batir, near Bethlehem.
Interestingly, Batir is situated not far from where three Jewish teens were abducted by Hamas terrorists last week.
Israel is working behind the scenes to thwart the effort, as it does not accept UNESCO’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority as an independent national entity. But, Jerusalem is concerned that with the current stalemate in the peace process, the Palestinians will succeed in making further headway with the world body.
Israel is working under the assumption that UNESCO will vote in favor of the Palestinian proposal even though an investigative team recently determined that the terraces in question do not meet the criteria needed to become a World Heritage Site.
Ironically, the Palestinians are receiving backing from the Kfar Etzion Field School in the Etzion Bloc of Jewish settlements. The Jewish settlers hope that UNESCO recognition of the terraces will prevent the Israeli government from constructing another security barrier in the area.
Yaron Rosenthal, director of the field school, said that “a UNESCO decision to recognize Batir as a World Heritage Site will greatly assist our efforts to halt the separation fence, which will cause tremendous environmental damage.”
Jewish residents of the Etzion Bloc note that the security fence was started 10 years ago, when the security situation was quite different, and is no longer needed, at least in their area. They also raised concerns that continuing the barrier would destroy a unique terraced landscape, damage ancient olive and oak trees and even dry up local springs.
Rosenthal also pointed out that Israel signed an agreement in 1949 with Jordan, which ruled the “West Bank” at that time, under which the residents of Batir would not harass Jewish travelers in the area, and in return Israel would permit them to continue working fields located in Israeli-controlled areas.
“This agreement has been continuously fulfilled by both sides for 63 years, and we the residents of this area would like to keep it that way,” he said. “Separating local Arabs from their farms will only lead to riots and chaos in one of the quietest areas of Judea and Samaria.”