Israel May Seek PA Cooperation on Would-be UNESCO Heritage Site

Recognition is sought for ancient agricultural terraces in Judean Hills.

The Israel World Heritage Committee is recommending that the terraced fields in the Judean hills be classified as protected UNESCO heritage sites - a project that Israeli preservationists hope will lead to cooperation with the Palestinian Authority to protect ancient agricultural land on both sides of the Green Line.

Some of the terraced areas lie neglected because they are no longer used for farming, and many of the areas are under threat of being paved over to build homes or infrastructure. Near the West Bank village of Walaja, an area rich in terraced fields, work has already begun on a section of the West Bank separation fence.

hills - Alberto Denkberg - October 8 2010
Alberto Denkberg

"The agricultural terraces are the fingerprints of human culture in hilly landscapes," said Motti Kaplan, the environmental planner who prepared the World Heritage proposal, along with architects Hagit Leshem and Naama Ringel. "They represent small-farm agriculture, bordered by stone walls, which is quite rare in the modern world."

The proposal was submitted this week to the Israel World Heritage Committee, headed by Michael Turner, at the request of Nekudat Hen, a local foundation promoting environmental values in agriculture.

Turner said he will recommend that the terraced fields, which are meant to prevent soil erosion and make it easier to farm on difficult terrain, be added to the list of proposed heritage sites. He said the 554 kilometers of terraced fields, made out of some two million stones, changed the landscape of the Judean hills and created a new ecological system.

"These have been in existence for nearly 3,000 years," he said. "It has tremendous value from the perspective of preserving a cultural landscape."

The proposal include Israeli sites in the Mevasseret Zion and Arazim Valley areas outside Jerusalem, land in the Palestinian villages of Walaja and Batir, and Palestinian fields near the West Bank Jewish settlements of Betar Ilit and the Gush Etzion bloc.

"I didn't deal with political considerations, but with the importance of the landscape," Kaplan said.