Just south-west of Jerusalem, amidst the hills surrounding Bethlehem and right on the fringe of the green line, sits the Palestinian village of Battir. This year, Battir became Palestine’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its tiered farm lands, stone-walled terraces that date back to the Roman era and a unique natural irrigation network that continues to distribute water from underground sources to the families of the village. In June, when Battir gained UNESCO status, the village was also added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to an ongoing legal battle with Israeli authorities over the route of the separation barrier. The proposed route would cut right through the site, isolating farmers from the land their families have been cultivating for generations and potentially damaging the terraces and irrigation system that make Battir so special.
Yesterday I had the chance to go hiking in Battir. I knew embarrassingly little about the history, significance, or legal battle surrounding the village before I got there. I was really just excited to be outside and walking through what I had heard was a beautiful place. We set out in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, on a route we found in a book called Walking Palestine. The book said our route would take us through the famous valley and up to a local hidden gem called the Maghrour Restaurant. It sounded great. The sun was bright, the air was cool and crisp, and we were in for a great day.
After a few hours of walking, a couple of wrong turns and the gracious help of some other hikers, we climbed up the side of the valley to the restaurant. When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly young man who opened the gate to the restaurant’s lot, but there was no restaurant there. The restaurant had recently been demolished, we were told, by Israeli soldiers… not once, but twice since 2012. Our new friend apologized that he couldn’t offer us any food but invited us in for coffee anyway. He showed us the land where the restaurant had been, talked about the legal processes he was going through to try to solve the issue, and told us that his family hoped they would have the place back up and running in the next few months. We talked for a while, sipped on coffee, and got directions to the next closest restaurant, an organic farm across the valley. We ate a delicious lunch overlooking a delicious view. Across the way we could still see the site of the torn down restaurant.
There have been many occasions since I arrived in Palestine when I have actively sought out the impacts of the occupation. I have chosen to stand at agricultural gates and check points, chosen to witness children having their bags searched by soldiers on their way to school, chosen to respond to military incursions or demolition orders. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days. Whether its hitting a flying checkpoint while on days off, smelling tear gas in the distance as you walk to the corner store, or hiking to a restaurant that turns out to demolished, the impacts of the occupation are everywhere here… whether you’re looking for them or not.