Battir: Relic from the Past, Signpost for the Future

For a teenager in Jerusalem in the early 1980s, Battir was an inspiring short hike away to the outskirts of the dormant city. I recall following shepherds leading their herds between the neighborhoods through the open wadis, treading history alongside them. The open land, unmarked by any green line, was adorned by Roman inscriptions, tapestries at Ein Yalo, and sacred water springs open to all. Walking along the Ottoman railway track, passing abandoned olive groves of Malha and tended grapevines of the Cremizan Monastery, stopping among grazing goats in the pasturelands between the everlasting cultivated terraces, I was forging my way toward Battir.

The region has known wars and intifadas; we have all had our struggles since those days. I have established my own goat farm and raised my children in a small Israeli village in the Judean Hills. I work for Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), focusing on environmental peace-building in our region. I have colleagues in Battir and have made many friends there as well. I now appreciate Battir as a community that has been able to merge science and tradition, education and nature, agriculture and environment. Stone walls and footpaths are maintained for farmers and travelers; an eco-museum and guesthouse overlook terraced slopes of fertile vegetable plots; water supply is sustained by the ancient canal system from natural springs which are routinely monitored for their quality. I ride my mare from my home toward Battir in the same landscape I cherish, but beyond, towards the expanding metropolis of Jerusalem, much has changed: Malha has turned into the largest shopping center and the Teddy soccer stadium; an aquarium is being built for the Biblical Zo; the Ein Yael "open" museum, formed around Ein Yalo, is now enclosed for workshops and events that require a fee; deteriorating Ein Hania is shadowed by the Refaim security barrier. FoEME has brought the issue of the security barrier in Battir to the Israeli High Court and to the awareness of the public and media. We appealed against the construction of the separation barrier at this piece of land. People’s souls and soils are now being debated by the Nature and Parks Authority and the military.

Yet Battir, for me, remains a relic of past traditions as well as a signpost of direction and balance.