Palestinian village strives to protect Roman-era irrigation system

Battir, which is situated only a few kilometers from Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and is administratively part of Bethlehem, is famous for its olive trees, Roman-era ruins, hilltop setting and 3,000-year-old irrigation terraces.

Palestinian village strives to protect Roman-era irrigation system

World Bulletin / News Desk

Palestinian farmer Huda Uweina knows that she and her fellow farmers in the scenic Palestinian village of Battir, located some 6km west of Bethlehem, may soon lose their ancient irrigation system to Israeli development plans.

"Our village has used this system of irrigated terraces for a long time," Uweina told Anadolu Agency. "We've passed them down from generation to generation."

Battir, which is situated only a few kilometers from Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and is administratively part of Bethlehem, is famous for its olive trees, Roman-era ruins, hilltop setting and 3,000-year-old irrigation terraces.

It incorporates extensive stone-walled terraces and a unique natural irrigation system where water flows down into a deep valley.

The irrigation system in Battir, inhabited by some 6,000 people, is almost as old as the village's terraces.

The system is simple, but has provided village residents with a reliable source of irrigation for centuries.

According to custom, the eight families of the village take turns in irrigating their fields for 24 hours each from a natural well – dug in 1950 – that provides some 400 cubic meters of water daily.

Uweina says that village elders are responsible for distributing water equally among families, using strict measurement tools to ensure that nobody gets more than their fair share.

"I've never heard of the water distribution system breaking down or not working," she said.

Uweina grows eggplants in her field, like many other village farmers, who hold an annual festival for the eggplant harvest.

The cultivation of vegetables in the village is done through a series of basins, divided and separated from each other by water passageways.

The village is crisscrossed in the north by an Ottoman-era railway line, now used by the Israeli army to transport passengers and cargo from Al-Quds to Tel Aviv, based on a 1949 agreement between Israel and Jordan.

The agreement allows Battir residents to freely use 4,000 dunams of village land (one dunam is equivalent to 1,000 square meters), which falls inside territories occupied by Israel in 1948, in return for allowing trains to safely cross from the village.

But Battir is now threatened by numerous Israeli development plans, one of which is a proposed huge concrete separation wall that would effectively cleave Battir in two.

The fate of the village could be decided soon when a petition against the planned route of Israel's barrier, which will cut through the ancient Roman irrigation network, is heard by Israel Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, the court adjourned hearing, giving no date for a final ruling.

Village residents fear the planned wall will destroy their historical heritage, along with Battir's antique irrigation system.

"Israel uses security pretexts to seize more and more of our land," said village council member Elian al-Shami.

Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2014, 10:25
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