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June 27, 2012

The NYT and the Heritage Fit to Print

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Archeological site of Tel Betar (from Tel Aviv University)

Leave it to the New York Times to cover the "heritage" of the West Bank village of Battir, named after the ancient Jewish site of Beitar, while ignoring its historical significance in Judaism.

Today's International Herald Tribune headline for the article is "Defending the soil, and heritage," but let's be clear -- the IHT/NYT interest in Battir/Beitar's heritage is highly selective. The article begins:

In this scenic Palestinian village in the West Bank hills near Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, a week is said to last eight days, not seven. That is because Battir’s eight extended families take daily turns watering their crops from the natural springs that feed their ancient agricultural terraces, a practice they say has worked for centuries.

The water flows through a Roman-era irrigation system down into a deep valley where a railway track — a section of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway built in Ottoman times — roughly marks the 1949 armistice line between the West Bank and Israel. The area is dotted with tombs and ruins upon ruins of bygone civilizations.

The Times sees fits to discuss the Palestinian history of Battir, and to identify the Roman presence, but the Jewish presence is relegated to the unnamed "bygone civilizations." Blogger Yisrael Medad provides this information about Beitar's Jewish significance:

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.

Moreover, according to Medad, the villagers' claim that the natural springs "feed their ancient agriculatural terraces," is an egregious overstatement. He points to a Tufts University study of the Battir springs, which finds:

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," observes Medad, "the system irrigates .0125% of the total. Just over 1%."

While the agricultural terraces are in trouble, says Medad, it's not because of the planned security barrier through the valley where the spring flows, as the villagers' argument goes. According to the Tufts study:

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.

(Hat tip also to Elli Fischer)

Posted by TS at June 27, 2012 05:04 AM

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