‘I want Battir to go to hell’: Settlers move in on Palestinian World Heritage site

Palestinians in the West Bank agricultural village of Battir are encountering armed Israeli settlers trying to push them off their land.

View of the Palestinian village of Battir, with its ancient terraces and irrigation system, West Bank

Yuval Abraham writes in +972, July 29, 2020:

Khaled and Miriam Muammar live in Battir, an agricultural village in the occupied West Bank, just south of Jerusalem. Khaled works in construction and Miriam in the family’s field, where she grows eggplants, for which Battir — which was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage and World Heritage in Danger lists in 2014 — is known. “Every eggplant is 40 centimeters [16 inches]. They are huge. The entire world wants them,” says Khaled.

A month ago, when Miriam came to work in the fields, she saw something that made her immediately turn around and run back home: eight armed Israeli settlers and a Doberman walking around the field. They built a tent in a nearby plot of land belonging to Battir resident Ghassan Alyan, where they tethered their sheep. They stayed until sundown before leaving.

“This is what they have been doing for a month, a group of settlers, several times a week. Yesterday (July 26) they came again,” Alyan says. “I have a cistern from which I drink. The settler routinely undresses and climbs into the cistern in order to swim in it.

“If I gave you a glass of water, and put a finger in it before, would you drink it?” Alyan asks. “My guess is no. So now imagine what I feel. It’s repulsive. It drives me crazy. I’m helpless.”

The man Alyan refers to is Lior Tal, a settler leader who comes to this spot east of Battir from his home in the illegal outpost of Neve Ori, just 2.5 miles away, which he built less than a year ago.

Alyan says that he first saw Tal herding sheep on Battir’s land. “I didn’t have an issue with that, as long as he doesn’t destroy anything — why should I care? But now it has gone beyond that. He arrives, tethers his sheep in the sun from 8 a.m. until evening, and doesn’t herd. He just stays there. For the sake of provocation. Last week, he knocked on the doors of Battir’s residents and demanded they present him with land ownership documents.”

Khaled Muammar explains that the area is strategically important for the settlement enterprise in the West Bank. “They want to take over this area for three reasons: first of all, because of its elevation; it overlooks the region. Secondly, it separates [Battir from] al-Walajeh; settling there creates a wedge between two Palestinian villages. And thirdly, because it creates geographical continuity between [the Israeli settlement] Har Homa and Jerusalem.”

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