[The following open letter was issued by the below signatories to the members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on 3 June 2014.]

To the Honorable Members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee:

We, the undersigned, representing the University of Virginia School of Law International Human Rights Law Clinic; Boston University School of Law Human Rights Clinic; and esteemed professionals in the fields of law, archeology, landscape architecture, geography, global studies, conflict resolution, political science, Arab studies, housing, physics, journalism, respectfully address the World Heritage Committee regarding the nomination of the village and landscape of Battir in the State of Palestine as a World Heritage Site in Danger.

The preservation of Battir is a matter of international concern, as underscored by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion on the Wall of 2004.1 The World Heritage Committee is called to take a decision at its 38th Session (Doha, Qatar, June 15-25, 2014) on the submission. The nominated site has been evaluated by ICOMOS with references to the many cultural heritage aspects of the site, such as ancient terraces and irrigation systems, as well as archaeological features and historic landscape values. ICOMOS’ May 2014 conclusion not to recommend the Battir landscape for safeguarding directly contradicts the opinion of the World Monument Fund (WMF) issued less than six months earlier. The WMF designated the landscape a 2014 World Monument Watch site at risk.2 We write to underscore the human rights concerns, including cultural and historical issues that require special consideration. We hope the concerns highlighted will weigh in further support for listing the Battir landscape as a World Heritage Site. Battir presents an extraordinary and urgent circumstance, and we respectfully request the World Heritage Committee give serious consideration to our submission.

We urge the World Heritage Committee, in addition to evaluating retrospective historical and present conditions, to consider a counterfactual prospective inquiry. Should Battir not be protected, the irreversible destruction of the site, and its living history in which its people engage, will be accelerated due to Israel’s plans for the Security Barrier.3

Human Rights are essential factors to consider in deciding whether to list Battir as a World Heritage Site

The impact of the planned Israeli measures to the historical landscape of Battir is a UNESCO concern. To fulfill UNESCO’s priority of mainstreaming human rights in all its areas of action,4 it is paramount for the World Heritage Committee to consider those human rights that fall directly under UNESCO’s competence. Inscription on the World Heritage List will aid in preventing violation of these rights in Battir. Cultural rights are protected human rights essential to human dignity and to self-determination, and are just as much a part of world heritage as are ancient olive groves and irrigation systems forming a unique terraced landscape.

The human right to cultural participation is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), among other treaties: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.5 “To participate” is widely understood to include participation, access to, and contribution to cultural life, according to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.6 Access includes access to language, to education in cultural traditions, and to cultural resources like land, water and biodiversity.7 Furthermore, “In the Committee’s view, culture is a broad, inclusive concept encompassing all manifestations of human existence. The expression ‘cultural life’ is an explicit reference to culture as a living process, historical, dynamic and evolving, with a past, a present and a future”.8 The International Labour Organization and the Human Rights Committee have also defined “way[s] of life associated with the use of land resources” as a cultural right.9

In Battir, the land and water are the culture of its people. Neighbors share in an ancient tradition of water distribution, rotating access to the irrigation. Children tend to the gardens, alone, or with their mothers and fathers. Elders who grew up sleeping under the olive trees measure the water each day. Harvests facilitate intergenerational gatherings and engagement for those family members who have left Battir and return to participate in cultivation of the fields and other socio-economic activities with their community.

The right to cultural participation is related to the right to education.10 The human right to education includes “the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values in which the individual and society find their identity and worth”.11 Through working together on the land, villagers of Battir pass on values, religion, custom, language, and cultural references. They also invite others to be a part of their living history. The village hosts a guest house, maintains hiking trails, and their eco-museum is visited by travelers from around the world.

The Exceptional and Unique Status of Battir Village and its Land as Part of Palestinian Self-Determination

The human right to cultural participation is interdependent with the human right to self-determination.12 Conserving Battir through World Heritage status will not only preserve ancient architecture (including archeological remains from the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, Roman and Byzantine periods), but it will conserve a traditional, deliberate way of life. It is truly a living cultural heritage site. The individual and collective choice to participate in or carry on cultural traditions “should be recognized, respected and protected on the basis of equality”.13

The villagers are persisting–against all odds–to keep these traditions alive, even in the face of threats and regulations imposed by the Israeli Defense Forces. It is clear that they wish to continue participating in this living history. As a Battir landowner said, “We stick with the land. It doesn’t matter what government is here–British, Ottoman, Palestinian, Israeli–we stick with the land”.14

International UNESCO World Heritage recognition may be the only mechanism able to persuade Israel not to interfere with the people and their land. Not only does the village of Battir and its cultural landscape independently feature ancient human-made relics, the living history of its people deserves heightened protective status and recognition.

As signatories, we support Battir and recognize the importance and authority that human rights brings to bear in conserving cultural and ancient heritage.


1. AN ORGANICALLY EVOLVED LANDSCAPE: The cultural landscape of Battir (historic-human-living landscape) embodies the concept and assets of an organically evolved landscape, yet in use as of today, according to UNESCO-WHC terminology.

2. A CULTURAL HERITAGE SITE: This includes 554,000 linear meters of hand-made dry-stone terraces within an area of 12 sq. km, encompassing a variety of rain-fed cultivations including multi-centenary monumental olive trees, and, in the proximity of seven springs, ancient irrigation systems made of channels and pools enabling the cultivation of vegetable gardens; as well as archaeological sites and features, e.g. prehistoric hilltops, fortifications and Roman graves.

3. HUMAN CREATION: This is a human creation produced by centuries of hard work that can be destroyed in days by ill-considered actions.

4. HUMAN RIGHTS: The people of Battir continue to cultivate their land according to unaltered traditional practices, including water allocation, over more than twenty centuries; as this has long been a cultural pattern in their lives, the people of Battir have the right to “freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 27).

5. THREATS AND IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE: The Government of Israel is undertaking unilateral security measures such as the construction of the Separation Barrier which, if implemented, will irreversibly destroy one of the most precious portions of the landscape of Battir, notably the irrigated terraces named Al-Jinan (the Gardens of Paradise). While the Separation Barrier is planned to be built primarily on Israeli territory bordering the West Bank, its construction will nonetheless cut the terraces, irreversibly affecting the integrity of the site, the continuity in the agricultural practices, and the ecosystem as a whole.

6. A WORLD HERITAGE SITE IN DANGER: Inscribing Battir on the World Heritage List in Danger, as a property nominated by the State of Palestine in January 2014, is the most immediate and effective remedy to achieve its concrete protection from the imminent threat represented by the construction of the Separation Barrier. Its inscription will play a key role in the ongoing court case at the Israeli High Court of Justice, where the State of Israel would have to consider the implications of damaging a World Heritage property bordering its territory.

7. INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION: The values of the cultural landscape of Battir have been recognized internationally through the award of the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (2011),15 the inclusion as a Watch site by the World Monuments Fund,16 which every two years selects the most endangered heritage sites in the world (2014).

8. LOCAL COMMUNITY: The Palestinian local community (as well as the Israeli communities living across the Armistice Line) are proactively participating in the preservation of this cultural landscape, enabled by seven years of multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder projects, led by UNESCO and supported by the international community.

9. CROSS-BORDER COOPERATION: These populations are working to conserve this unique cultural landscape, and have together submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice against the building of the Separation Barrier, slated to be built through the terraced landscape site. This is an extremely important show of cross-border stakeholder support, showing vested interests in the preservation of this ancient cultural landscape. The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority has expressed its concerns regarding the construction of the Separation Barrier and supported the integral safeguarding of the site, including participating in the lawsuit against the Israeli Barrier encroachment in Battir.

10. MEDIA ATTENTION: The case was brought to the attention of local and international media which have reported about it in hundreds of articles and other media features.

11. WHY WE MUST PROTECT BATTIR: The safeguarding of the living landscape of Battir and its inhabitants embodies the respect of mutual interests, protects both history and human rights, and encourages the possibility of dialogue between Israel and Palestine.


Deena R. Hurwitz, Professor of Law, General Faculty, University of Virginia School of Law, and the International Human Rights Law Clinic (USA)

Susan Akram, Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney, International Human Rights Program, Boston University School of Law, and the International Human Rights Clinic (USA)

Salman Abu Sitta, Geographer, Palestinian Land Society (UK)

Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, Faculty Director and Co-Chair, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, NYU School of Law; UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2004-2010); Chair, Coordinating Committee of UN Human Rights procedures (2005-2006); Chair/Rapporteur, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1987-1998) (USA)

Richard P. Appelbaum, Ph.D., MacArthur Chair in Sociology and Global & International Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara (USA)

Karin Arts, Professor of International Law and Development, International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) (The Netherlands)

Rajagopal Balakrishnan, Associate Professor of Law and Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Director of the MIT Program on Human Rights and Justice (USA)

Hrair Balian, Director, Conflict Resolution Program, The Carter Center (USA)

Giuseppe Barbera, Professor at University of Palermo (Italy)

Paolo Bürgi, Landscape architect and professor of landscape architecture, Camorino (Switzerland)

Federico Busonero, Photographer; author, THE LAND THAT REMAINS–PHOTOGRAPHS FROM PALESTINE (UNESCO commissioned study, forthcoming 2015) (Italy/USA)

Armelle Couillet, Cartographer, Franche-Comté University, Chair, les Cafés-cartographiques, (France)

Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas, Cartographer, (France)

Marine Doisy, les Cafés-cartographiques, (France)

John Dugard, Emeritus Professor of International Law, University of Leiden; former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine (The Netherlands)

Mahmoud Salem Elsheikh, Direttore di Ricerca, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Firenze (Italy)

Peter Fowler, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, Newcastle University; World Heritage consultant to UNESCO, etc. (1992-2012) (UK)

Neve Gordon, Political Scientist (Israel)

Jeff Handmaker, Senior lecturer in law, human rights and development, International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) (The Netherlands)

Samir Harb, Architecture Fellow, Akademie Schloss Solitude (Palestine/Germany)

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (USA)

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor in Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University (USA)

Walid Khalidi, Historian and Chairman, Institute for Palestine Studies (USA); General Secretary, Institute for Palestine Studies (Beirut, Lebanon)

Luigi Latini, Landscape architect, Chair of the Scientific Committee, Benetton Foundation (Italy)

Catherine Legna, les Cafés-cartographiques, (France)

Domenico Luciani, Chairman of the Jury of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens, Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche, Treviso (Italy)

Gilbert Meynier, Ancien maître de conférences à l’Université de Constantine, Professeur émérite de l’Université de Nancy II (France)

Joan Nogue’, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Girona and Director of the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia (www.catpaisatge.net) (Spain)

Muriel Pichon, Journalist (France)

Lionello Puppi, Emeritus Professor of Art History, former member of the Senate of the Italian Republic, Conegliano (Italy)

William B. Quandt, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Professor of Politics, University of Virginia (USA)

Hervé Quinquenel, Engineer in cartography processes, French National School of Geographic Sciences/French National Geographic Institute (France)

Ilan Pappé, University of Exeter, College of Social Sciences and International Studies, Professor; European Centre for Palestine Studies, Director; Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies, Co-Director (UK)

Nicola Perugini, Assistant Professor, Head of the Human Rights and International Law Program, Al Quds Bard College, Jerusalem, Palestine. Incoming Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Italian Studies and Middle East Studies at Brown University (USA)

Nasser Rabbat, Agha Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)

Jean-François Rial, les Cafés-cartographiques, (France)

Stephen A. Rosenbaum,* Visiting Senior Lecturer, University of Washington School of Law; John & Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer, UC Berkeley (CA) School of Law (USA)

Catherine Rottenberg, Gender Studies (Israel)

D. Fairchild Ruggles, Professor of the History of Art, Architecture and Landscape, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; editor, ON LOCATION: HERITAGE CITIES AND SITES (2012) (USA)

Anne Sanciaud-Azanza, Vice-présidente déléguée au Patrimoine, Directrice-adjointe du Service commun de documentation, Université François Rabelais (Tours); librarian and curator of THE LAND THAT REMAINS–PHOTOGRAPHS FROM PALESTINE, by Federico Busonero (France)

Joseph Schechla, Coordinator, Housing and Land Rights Network-Habitat International Coalition (Egypt)

Iain GM Scobbie, Professor of Public International Law and Co-Director of the Manchester International Law Centre, University of Manchester; and Visiting Professor in International Law, SOAS, University of London (UK)

Farida Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Executive Director, Shirkat Gah-Women’s Resource Centre (Pakistan)

James Silk,* Clinical Professor of Law, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic

Executive Director, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School (USA)

Marco Tamaro, direttore, Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche, Treviso (Italy)

Trisha Terwilliger, MA Social Justice in Intercultural Relations, School for International Training (USA)

Gérard Toulouse, Physicist at Ecole Normale Supérieure (rue d'Ulm), Paris, emeritus, founding member of the Académie des Technologies (France)

Sharon Weill, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva (CERAH) (Switzerland)

Eyal Weizman, Professor of Visual Cultures and director of the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London (UK)

Simonetta Zanon, Laboratories/ projects for the landscape, Benetton Foundation, Treviso (Italy)

Peter Zumthor, Architect, Pritzker Prize for Architecture 2009 (Switzerland)


Emek Shaveh, Archaeology in the Shadow of Conflict, Jerusalem (Israel) * for ID purposes only