The New York Times (finally) has reported on the Battir/Betar water story and it's petition to UNESCO as a world heritage site deserving of protection (I blogged previously here). They want an ecomuseum. The claim is that village's
ecological and environmental equilibrium will continue to be threatened and its residents denied the chance to enjoy their natural heritage and sustain the land.
water flows through a Roman-era irrigation system
And I just loved this portrayal of a
sprightly elderly woman, a distant relative, skipped down to a nearby plot across the railway track
Skipping? Exactly how elderly is she?
But let's return to what is supposed to be fact rather than literary fiction.
First, let's identify the site more historically correct:
Tel Betar (Khirbet el-Yahud) is situated southwest of Jerusalem near the Arab village of Bittir, its northern side flanking the Rephaim Valley...Khirbet el-Yahud is unanimously identified with Betar, the last stronghold of the Second Revolt against the Romans, where its leader, Bar-Kochba, found his death in 135 CE. The ancient name was (p)reserved in the name of the Arab village Bittir, and the Arab name of the site - Khirbet el-Yahud, that is "The ruin of the Jews", keeps the memory of the Second Revolt. The identification is supported by the results of the surveys and the excavations. The Roman siege of Betar in 135 CE, the conquest of the settlement and the slaughter of the besieged, including Bar-Kochba, which put an end to the Second Revolt, is mentioned in both Jewish and Roman Sources - The Talmud and the Midrash, and Eusebius (3rd-4th centuries CE) in his book on the history of the church.
Now, let's get factual on Battir's irriagtion situation:
Battir has 12,000 Dunums [dunam is 1,000 square metres (10,764 sq ft)] of arable land. 4,000 Dunums are cultivated. Of the cultivated land, 50 Dunham are near the spring and cultivated with the water of the spring. From the remaining 8,000 Dunham of arable land that are not cultivated, 5,000 Dunham are not cultivated due to lack of water. The majority of the agriculture land relies solely on rain...
In other words, the system irrigates .0125% of the total. Just over 1%. C'est tout. And
Battir households are all connected to the water supply managed by the municipality of Battir. This water is supplied by by The Israeli water company ‐ Mekorot
And it has been since 1973 that
the village of Battir did most of its growth (p. 14)
Yes, there is a water problem at Battir. But it is a waste-water disposal problem:
Battir, like most of the villages in West Bank, has no sewerage network. Most families therefore depend on boreholes (cesspits) for their black wastewater. These boreholes [see below] are the main contamination source of the spring water as many of them are not pumped and none of them are sealed against leaks. According to the same survey, 80% of households have separated pipes systems for black and grey water3. While the black‐wastewater is directed to the boreholes the gray water is used for irrigation in the proximity of the house without any treatment. More than 50% of households never pump out their borehole. Only about a quarter of the households pump out their boreholes in a monthly basis, the rest pump out their boreholes on a time range from 2 months to 5 years. The pumped out solid waste is
conducted by a truck owned and operated by the municipality. This truck pumps‐out only or mostly the solid waste. In most cases the solid waste is taken to a treatment facility at some cost. Yet, many cases were reported about the drivers disposing the solid waste in the Wadi (dry streambed) near Battir.
According to that NYTimes' report:
...the villagers and conservation experts fight to save what they say is a unique living cultural and historical landscape.
With all that sewerage, what exactly at the villagers conserving?
And then there's the Israeli, Gidon Bromberg, director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, described as "an organization that works to promote cooperation on environmental issues in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories". He was quoted as saying
“there are alternative ways to bring about security without destroying 4,000 years of cultural heritage for the Israelis, the Palestinians and all of humanity.”
Wait. 4000 years heritage? What happened to the Romans? They are from 2000 years ago [Roman rule began in 63 BCE]
But to return to conservation:-
The Battir spring has discharge rate of about 40 cubic meters per day according to my measurement. While visiting the site, I measured 1 liter discharged every 2 seconds (times 43,200 seconds – half of the days seconds). Yet, the secretary of the municipality estimated the springs yield at 150m3/day in the summer and 250m3/day in the winter...Some residents take water from the spring in buckets for domestic use and a common yet unlawful practice is the use of the wells waters for washing personal cars.
... The use of these boreholes has already caused pollution of water springs in the village, according to the results of regular pathogen tests carried out by the Palestinian Ministry of Health from 2006 the Battir Spring has a concentration of fecal coliform bacteria 230 colonies/100ml. I also obtained a report (annex 1) from 2009 that shows, the fecal coli‐form bacteria at the spring were TMC (to many to count) and for E. Coli in the range from 20‐40 colonies for 100mL. Correspondingly, reports of recurring incidents of water borne diseases amongst children are reported by the local clinic. In the past years cases of amoeba have been registered with the village clinic due to drinking spring water. In May 2010, 50 cases ameba were reported in the boy’s school. The affected groups were student’s ages 6‐14 years old were affected. In the same month in the girl’s school, 3 students as well as some mothers reported cases of Ameba...it should be mandatory to inform clients of the necessity to wash the vegetables harvested with this water. Also, the grey water used in proximity of the house might also contain pathogens that may have a negative effect on human health. This contamination might occur as a result of washing parts of our bodies after being exposed to pathogens in a way were the pathogens are transferred into the water.
It's not UNESCO that Battir's residents require but the World Health Organization .