Nature and Parks Authority reneges on prior consent, claiming ecological peril and political interests.
By Zafrir Rinat | Sep.13, 2012

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has reneged on its consent to construction of the separation fence near the Palestinian village of Battir, south of Jerusalem.

It is the first time a government agency has expressed opposition to the construction of a segment of the fence.

In a document sent recently to the Defense Ministry, the INPA cited damage to the landscape and to relations with residents of the Palestinian village, and demanded that the Defense Ministry find an alternative way of ensuring security in the area.

The fence is slated to run through part of a national park in the Battir area, continuing to the vicinity of Tzur Hadassah, and from there to the settlement of Betar Ilit, west of Gush Etzion.

The INPA is rescinding the agreement it reached with the Defense Ministry six years ago on the routing of the fence in the Battir area, after changes were made to minimize landscape damage.

In the document, the INPA wrote that agricultural terraces around Battir attesting to millennia-old methods of farming in the region will be irreversibly harmed by the fence.

“No matter how narrow the route of the fence, it will be a foreign engineering element in the heart of the agricultural terraces and separate the village from its lands, among which are plots irrigated by spring water,” the INPA claimed.

The fence would also impede free movement of wild animals in the area and lead to their extinction, the agency wrote.

The INPA document also noted that the Palestinian Authority had recently filed an urgent request to place the area on the World Heritage List maintained by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The struggle of our neighbors to name the area a World Heritage Site places us in an embarrassing position, and we should work together with them to protect the landscape,” the document said.

The document also notes that Battir’s residents were the only Palestinians officially allowed to cross into Israel and work their lands before the Six-Day War, and that they had maintained peace and quiet in the area. “The case of the lands of Battir should be studied. It is a ray of light showing different relations with our neighbors built on shared interests,” the document said.

The Defense Ministry did not respond to a Haaretz request for comment on the INPA document. However, during talks with the INPA, the Defense Ministry said it was essential for security that the fence pass through the area, that it had been coordinated with the INPA in the past, and that lands had been legally purchased from Battir residents for the purpose of constructing the fence.