Jewish settlers try to build illegal outpost on Palestinian UNESCO heritage site

Middle East Monitor  /  March 16, 2022

Jewish settlers last week tried to establish a new outpost near the Palestinian village of Battir, an area that is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The settlers prevented the Palestinian owners from accessing their land, Mohammad Abidallah, a member of the Battir village council, told Haaretz.

This is the fourth time settlers have tried to establish an outpost in the area, he added.

The majority of the land in Battir was declared part of Area C – which falls under Israel’s military and administrative control – and has long been the target of Jewish settlement expansion.

In 2014, UNESCO declared Battir a World Heritage Site, a decision made in an expedited process due to plans at the time to build a fence around the village, which is located in the centre of a corridor of illegal Jewish settlements that run from lands south of Bethlehem up to occupied East Jerusalem.

“The Battir cultural landscape encompasses ancient terraces, archaeological sites, rock-cut tombs, agricultural towers, and most importantly an intact water system, represented by a collection pool, channels, etc. The integrity of this traditional water system is guaranteed by the families of Battir, who depend on it,” UNESCO says of the village on its website.

On Sunday Meretz parliamentarian, Mossi Raz, requested the Civil Administration evacuate the outpost and was told that the matter is “known and would be dealt with.”

Israeli NGO Peace Now also asked Defence Minister Benny Gantz to have the outpost removed. “It is frightening to think that a handful of settlers would dictate to Israel its foreign and security policy by determining facts on the ground,” the organization wrote in a statement.

According to Haaretz, Gantz’s office has not yet replied to their query. However, according to Wafa news agency, the settlers were successfully expelled by the Palestinian residents of the village.

Battir’s residents say that if the new outpost had remained, it would pose a major threat to the ecological and agricultural landscape of the southern Bethlehem area.

Area C takes up 61 per cent of the area of the occupied West Bank. Israel does not allow the building of Palestinian facilities there, or the cultivation of any land, without a license from the occupation authorities, few are ever issued.