By Reuters | Dec.12, 2012

A letter of support from the Nature and Parks Authority was part of a petition heard by the High Court to order the ministry to reroute the planned barrier away from Battir village, south of Jerusalem.

An Israeli government environmental agency challenged the Defense Ministry in court on Wednesday over a section of the controversial West Bank wall that threatens an ancient Palestinian farming community.

A letter of support from the Nature and Parks Authority was part of a petition heard by the High Court to order the ministry to reroute the planned barrier away from Battir village, south of Jerusalem.

While the court has issued such rulings in the past to reduce Palestinian hardship from the seizures of occupied land involved in erecting the vast barrier, it is unusual for such cases to pit Israeli officials against each other.

Battir, which abuts the boundary with Israel, is famed for its terraced agricultural fields, irrigated with methods dating back millennia. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) honored the village for its landscape last year.

Authority director Shaul Goldstein described its involvement in the case as unprecedented.

“It’s not every day that we come out against the Defense Ministry in court,” he told Reuters.

“We don’t object to putting up obstacles to stop terrorists, it’s just that we believe here that other methods can be used.”

The Tel Aviv to Jerusalem train runs near the village, along the 1949 armistice line and no man’s land which today demarcates the West Bank.

Some 30 percent of Battir’s farmland is located beyond the Israeli railway, with Palestinians secured free access under a decades-old arrangement with the Jewish state.

Citing fear of armed Palestinian infiltrators who have struck inside Israel since 2000, the Defense Ministry plans to fortify a fence protecting the train line at Battir with a wall.

Villagers say this will irreversibly disrupt agriculture and wildlife at the site, and were supported in petitioning the High Court by Israeli sympathizers including from Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Nature and Parks Authority.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall was illegal and that Israel should cease construction.

Israeli army colonel Ofer Hindi, representing the state in the Battir case, argued for the security benefits of the planned section by saying that two villagers were jailed in 2008 for planning to bomb the railway line.

The area is also an access point for Palestinians seeking to work illegally in Israel, and whom the military regards as security threats, Hindi told the High Court.

Wednesday’s session ended without the court setting a new date for further hearings nor for a ruling. In such cases rulings are generally delivered within days, a court spokeswoman said.

Court to rule if security barrier endangers Battir – JERUSALEM POST


The High Court of Justice will hear on Wednesday a petition that asks for court intervention to prevent the West Bank security barrier from being built in a way that petitioners say could destroy the shared Palestinian-Israeli Battir cultural landscape site.

Battir is a village in the Palestinian Authority, and is southwest of Jerusalem, situated just above the railway to Tel Aviv.

Friends of the Earth’s Middle East (FOEME) division filed the emergency petition on December 2.

FOEME reported that, in an unprecedented development, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has taken FOEME’s side against the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the rest of the government.

The government says that the placement of the barrier along its planned route is necessary for security reasons and that it will not do any irreversible damage to the site.

But according to FOEME, the Nature and Parks Authority said that when the route was planned in 2005, significant environmental concerns were pushed aside for security reasons.

The authority reportedly said that the site constitutes an important public interest that is special and valuable for the benefit of the public and future generations, and that the route of the barrier should be reconsidered.

Also, the fact that since 2005, the barrier in this area was never erected suggested that the project of building it was no longer operating in an emergency environment, the authority reportedly said.

Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of FOEME, said, “The NPA should be congratulated for keeping true to its mission and clarifying to the court that the barrier, if built, would indeed lead to irreversible damage, highlighting the need to reassess the impact of the barrier even beyond Battir.

“We find it odd that the military is stating an opinion pertaining to environmental and cultural heritage values – issues on which it has no expertise – contrary to the opinion of the NPA, known to the military in advance, and without attaching a single expert opinion to support its position,” continued Bromberg.

In addition, a letter from the PA from November 27 indicates that the Palestinians listed the site on their Tentative List for World Heritage.

The PA application to UNESCO was accepted on October 31, 2011, making it the first UN agency to accept “Palestine” as a member, over a year before the recent UN General Assembly vote recognizing “Palestine” as a non-member state.

The PA also hired an international expert to survey the site sometime later this month, in order to submit an official application regarding the site to UNESCO by January 31.

Bromberg added, “The Israeli government is obliged to protect heritage sites on the basis of various international obligations including the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.”

FOEME said that following the UN General Assembly admission of Palestine as a non-member observer state, this case raises concern that any destruction of cultural property associated with the building of the barrier could lead to criminal proceedings against Israelis under international law.

FOEME also claimed that the site is 4,000 years old and that then OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Moshe Dayan had carefully preserved the site in a 1949 armistice agreement.

The IDF Spokesman responded that it had no comment at this time other than to state that the issue was before the court for it to make a decision.

The Justice Ministry was not able to provide an official response by press time.
Petitioners say barrier could destroy the shared Palestinian-Israeli Battir cultural landscape site.