High Court Orders Defense Ministry to Halt Construction of Part of West Bank Barrier

The High Court put a wall in Defense Ministry's path to building the separation barrier around Batir, after villagers and environmentalists successfully argued it would damage ancient agricultural terraces.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The High Court ordered Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon Thursday to halt work on the construction of the West Bank security barrier near the Palestinian village of Batir.

The petition against the fence was submitted by Batir residents and Friends of the Earth Middle East. They are arguing that a barrier would irreparably damage the agricultural terraces in the region, which seem to be thousands of years old and which may be declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) when that body meets next month.

In an unusual step, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was given permission to join the petition and also opposed the state's plans.

On Wednesday, the INPA submitted an alternative proposal, whereby a simple chain-link fence, backed by security systems, would be erected instead of the concrete wall the ministry wants to build.

In their ruling, the panel of three justices ordered the Defense Ministry to examine the alternative proposal and to report back with its findings by July 2.

The ministry is planning the 500-meter segment of the separation barrier to protect the train line to Jerusalem, which passes close to a school and several houses in the village. Batir lies about five kilometers west of Bethlehem.

At UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting next month, the terraces at Batir will come up for recognition as a World Heritage Site. The terraces are watered by an ancient system of springs, pools and wells. In addition to destroying the watering system, residents say, the part of the barrier in the Refaim streambed next to the Green Line, or Israel's pre-1967 border, could separate the villagers from 740 acres of their land.

Palestinians want the terraces of Batir designated as a World Heritage Site.Credit: Michal Fattal
The terraces of Batir in the West Bank.Credit: Michal Fattal
The terraces of Battir, 2012.
A spring in Batir. The village is considered the last place in the Judean Hills that preserves traditional terrace farming.
An ancient irrigation canal in Batir.
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The terraces of Battir, 2012.Credit: Michal Fattal
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A spring in Batir. The village is considered the last place in the Judean Hills that preserves traditional terrace farming. Credit: Michal Fattal
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An ancient irrigation canal in Batir. Credit: Michal Fattal
Palestinian village of Batir

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