The barrier and Battir, UNESCO and the Olympics

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For a view from Bethlehem of some bloggers see: Bethlehem bloggers.  It may be a little dated, but it still provides an insight of life in Bethlehem from March 2005-August 2007

 West Bank barrier threatens villagers’ way of life

Israel is being urged to reroute its controversial West Bank barrier away from the lands of an ancient Palestinian village with a unique agricultural system. The BBC’s Wyre Davies visited Battir, whose inhabitants fear their traditional way of life will disappear.

In this part of the world, the supply and control of water is a major logistical and political issue. Yet the quaint village of Battir must be one of the luckiest and most blessed communities around – because Battir has water in abundance.

For more than 2,000 years, seven natural springs have given life to the village and its fields. Children still play, almost incongruously, in an old Roman bath built centuries ago at the spot, in the middle of the village, where one of the springs emerges.

The land is everything to us… Without our land we are nothing”

Akram Badir – Head of Batir village council

The simple irrigation system used today is as it was in ancient times. Water is shared between Battir’s eight main extended families. A simple system of manually diverting water via sluice gates means that fruit and vegetables from the small plots on the lower slopes are renowned for their freshness and quality.

Built on the side of a steep hill just to the south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, Battir also boasts land arranged as traditional terrace agriculture. But this is a system and a landscape that is under threat from Israel’s controversial barrier.

The exact route of this section of the barrier has yet to be finalised. But if, as thought, it is built along the valley floor below the village it will cut off Battir and its terraces from much of its ancestral lands. And, because of the unique irrigation system, villagers say those lands will be lost forever.

Green Line

Akram Badir is head of the village council. He is a successful businessman in his own right, but has spent much of his time in recent months mounting a legal challenge in the Israeli courts to the planned routing of the barrier.

Even though he knows his chances of success are slim, Badir says he cannot give up.

“The land is everything to us,” he says. “Without our land we are nothing. It’s been this way for centuries and our lives will disappear if the wall is built here.”

At least 30% of Battir’s lands lie on the Israeli side of the so-called Green Line, the generally recognised pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

The Arab villagers of Battir were allowed to keep their lands after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war in return for preventing damage to a railway which runs through the valley floor.

But Israel’s controversial barrier is getting close. Just up the hill from Battir, huge concrete slabs are going up – on occupied Palestinian territory – around the village of Walaja. It leaves swathes of village lands cut off on the other side of the wall.

Despite their long-standing agreement, villagers and campaigners fear the Israeli authorities plan to build the barrier along their valley floor, separating the villagers of Battir from their lands.


Giovanni Sontana, an anthropologist with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) says that to build the barrier here would destroy a traditional way of life.

“There are few, if any, places left in the immediate region where such a traditional method of agriculture remains, not only intact, but as a functioning part of the village,” he said as we walked through olive groves that have not changed for as long as anyone can remember.

Keeping the village of Battir and its lands intact would require Israel to do something it has not done thus far – to build part of the barrier on its own territory.

Declining requests for an interview, the Israeli defence ministry said in a statement that the routing of the barrier is based purely on security considerations and that potential damage to the area would be minimised.

Villagers, the statement said, would have access to their lands through special gates (operated by Israeli security personnel) in the wall or fence.

The residents of Battir certainly do not feel lucky or blessed, as the future of the village hangs in the balance. Many fear that a way of life that has prevailed here pretty much without change for hundreds of years is about to be swept away.


UNESCO mulls first Palestinian site for Heritage list

(AFP) – Jun 4, 2012

PARIS — UNESCO said Monday it will for the first time consider a Palestinian site for its World Heritage List, after the Palestinians controversially joined the UN heritage body last year.

UNESCO said in a statement that its World Heritage Committee will consider Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity for inclusion on the prestigious list during its next meeting, from June 24 to July 6, in Saint Petersburg.

“Palestine, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011 and subsequently ratified the World Heritage Convention, will be presenting its first site for inscription on the World Heritage List,” UNESCO said.

The full site to be listed would be the “Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem,” UNESCO said.

The church is the most visited tourist site in the Palestinian Territories, welcoming 1.5 million visitors in 2010.

The Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO in October, when its general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.

The result angered the United States, Israel’s staunch ally, which says the Palestinians must reach a peace agreement with the Jewish state before they can become full members of an international organisation.

Israel and the United States subsequently cut funding to UNESCO, depriving the organisation of 22 percent of its revenues.

The committee will consider 36 sites for inclusion on the World Heritage List at the Saint Petersburg meeting, UNESCO said.


Gaza Paralympian: Nothing is impossible

6 June 2012 (updated) 07/06/2012 10:15

Khamis Zakout, with the numerous medals he has won throughout his career as a wheelchair athlete. (MaanImages/PCHR/HO)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Despite having no formal training, Khamis Zakout, a wheelchair athlete from the Gaza Strip, will be representing Palestine at the London 2012 Paralympics.

Unlike other athletes outside Gaza, Zakout told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that he receives no financial reward for his vocation. He buys his own uniform, shoes, and sports wheelchair and trains in a public park in Gaza City.

“I have no professional advice on particular training techniques or specific diets for my athletic condition. Even if I had, I would rather provide my family with adequate food, than find for myself the special vitamins I need.”

Zakout, 47, says moral strength “is worth the best equipment and training in the world.”

In May, the British Consulate in Ramallah invited Zakout and his fellow athletes to Jerusalem to mark the 100-day countdown to the Paralympics.

“The objective of the visit was to get psychological support and moral strength to prepare for the Olympic Games, and I also wanted to show other disabled Palestinians that it is possible to succeed, achieve and live a healthy life, despite physical impairment,” Zakout says.

“I wanted to prove to all people that Palestinians are strong, that they have will and are persistent through their hardships. Disability only lies in the mind, not in the body. Hence, we are not disabled, and nothing is impossible.”

But Zakout was unable to attend the event because Israeli forces refused to let him enter at the Erez crossing on Gaza’s border, citing security concerns.

The athlete, who has never been detained in Israel, says he cannot think of any reason for the refusal. He has frequently traveled abroad for competitions, winning two gold medals for javelin and shot put at an international championship in Dubai in December.

Israeli authorities had provided Zakout’s wheelchair as compensation after he was left paralyzed in a construction accident at work in Israel in 1992.

“They deny us entry, but we are disabled and cannot fire at Israel. We just want to participate in sport activities,” Zakout says.

“Their goal is to break our moral, because they cannot accept the potential success of Palestinians.”

Zakout hopes he will be able to travel to London as the head of the Palestinian team has overseen official arrangements for the trip, but notes: “here, promises are rarely realized.”

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