By Zafrir Rinat

Following a request from UNESCO, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority recently submitted a list of sites it believes constitute Israel’s “cultural landscape.” Cultural landscapes are defined by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as distinct geographic areas or properties “representing the combined work of nature and man.”

The list includes at least one attraction already recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Incense Route in the Negev.

Other destinations on the list include the stone circle of Rujm el-Hiri (also called Galgal Harefaim, an ancient megalithic monument in the Golan Heights), the Baha’i gardens in Haifa ad Acre, and the ancient northern coastal strip cities of Atlit, Dor and Caesarea.

Caves in the southern lowlands from the era of Shimon Bar-Kochba are also included in the document, as well as the traditional site of the clash between David and Goliath in the Elah Valley. Christian sites in the Galilee are also represented, such as the Mount of Beatitudes, Bethesda and Mount Carmel.

“Our goal is to raise awareness among both the public and decision makers about preserving open spaces – not only nature preserves, but also cultural and human sites that developed here,” said Yuval Peled of the nature authority.

“There are areas in danger, such as Beit Netofa Valley, where traditional agriculture is still practiced. The farmers are struggling financially, and want to develop modern methods such as greenhouses. In our view, traditional agriculture must be subsidized in order to preserve the landscape,” he said.

The list is not intended solely to preserve sites of importance in Jewish history, as in the case of the government’s national heritage program announced last month.

“I became aware of the problem of cultural landscapes when at the beginning of the decade an Italian crew came to film important Christian sites, and said nothing was left to film because we had ruined the terrain,” Peled said. “We must ensure that all that can be saved of the earlier landscape remains. For instance, in the case of the site where David battled Goliath, we persuaded the Local Planning and Building Committee to prevent the construction of a gas station, not for the sake of protecting the rare wild animals there but to preserve a landscape associated with a legendary biblical story.”

The document also includes sites of local significance, such as the Nitzanim sand dunes, Mount Tavor and Sha’ar Hagai, and those linked to the Arab and Druze communities of the Galilee and Golan.

“We haven’t finished our work,” Peled said. “We intend to include the Horns of Hattin as a candidate for a World Heritage Site, as it was the site of the decisive battle between the Crusaders and Saladin.”

Also on the list is Tel Megiddo – according to Christian tradition, the location of the apocalyptic battle of Armageddon – a testament to the fact that those dedicated to preserving the cultural landscape are looking not only backward, but to the future.