investigations

The Landscape of Battir vs. The State of Israel

View_5Digital model view of the separation wall and its impact on the landscape (S. Harb/J.P. Brockhaus/ Forensic Architecture)

The Palestinian village of Battir is located south of Jerusalem, close to the 1948 Green Line and to an old Ottoman railway, where Israel is planning to build a new segment of its separation wall. The landscape includes terraces and irrigation channels dating to the Roman Period, multi-centennial trees and several other elements that UNESCO classified as “heritage and landscape of outstanding value”. The UN agency is in the process of evaluating the possibility to include the village in its World Heritage List. 

In this context Forensic Architecture is trying to provide the village and various NGOs, represented by adv. Michael Sfard, with spatial and visual tools in a petition to the Israeli High Court aimed for stopping the construction of the wall in this area.  

This petition departs from previous strategies aiming to change the route of the wall to take into account the human rights of residents and farmers along its route. This case does not seek to improve the wall along the least invasive path, but, rather, for the first time in this forum, to claim for its impossibility tout court.  The case is not brought about on behalf of human rights at all (claims on behalf of these rights stopped having any meaning in this area), but rather in the name of the right of the environment, of nature and of heritage. This in itself produced a rupture in the legal process concerning the wall and has already led to temporary respite in the plans and construction.

The case has also brought together ‘coalitions’ that were not previously thought possible. This is how the Jerusalem Post described one of the sessions:

“On one side of the court room before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday was the state attorney and a colonel from the IDF [Israeli Army]’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria. On the other side were the villagers of Battir, the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) and, surprisingly, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. That’s right – the state was arguing with itself, with an unprecedented defection by the Authority joining the fight against a new extension of the West Bank barrier through the well-known Battir cultural site. […]

The only exception to the wall between the sides inside the courtroom was when the villagers’ attorney and the IDF colonel had to awkwardly sit next to each other for 10 minutes while the attorney was running his slideshow.

There was no other place for him to operate the projector if the judges would be able to view the screen.

The screen was also a big hit, with no fewer than three slideshow presentations of the same landscape, but each one drawing completely different conclusions about what would happen to the flow of water throughout the landscape and other issues.

And who was the face of the Parks Authority’s for attacking the state and the IDF’s position? One might have expected someone who looked leftward leaning, or maybe an Israeli-Arab.

Instead it was a large, kippa-wearing, extremely long-bearded religious Jew, who looked a lot more like the settlers who are usually sitting next to the state and the IDF in hearings on the wall’s route.

Why was he protesting the new wall construction? Aside from any of the issues raised by the petitioners, he was highlighting that the construction would harm a second-century outpost from the Bar-Kochba revolt that the Authority claimed is equivalent in value to the much more famous site of Masada.”

Despite the imbalance in force and influence among these groups and in spite of their radically different political objectives, the unprecedented alliances in court might contain the potential for another rupture: one in which forensic practices are able to disactivate the logics of separation.

Among the interventions produced by Forensic Architecture was a digital model and animation representing the effect of the wall – as an iron fence and as a concrete structure – on the environment and showing that even the most “architecturally sustainable” and “less invasive” methods proposed by the army would provoke irreparable visual and environmental harm.

Navigating this complex landscape of governmental and non-governmental actors (NGOs, legal experts, state agencies and institutions) and arguments imbricated in the space of this legal forum, the project primarily aims at supporting the claim that any fence/wall would have a pernicious effect on the inhabitants, heritage and landscape of Battir. Of course, with its complex reality, fragile landscape, and abundant archaeology, Battir is a microcosm of Israel/Palestine. Might it be that if we can demonstrate the impossibility of a wall in Battir – it would testify for its futility in Palestine complete?

Here Forensic Architecture attempts to explore a fine line of contradictions related to the forum of the specific court in which this claim has been brought — and to its role in perpetuating and refining the Israel’s mechanisms of dispossession. Questioning-by-doing, this project also opened a forum of debate and speculation that tackles forensics from the angle of heritage and landscape preservation, trying to reflect on the subject beyond the legal restrictions of the case, and interrogates-by-practicing the spatial, legal and political conditions of heritage and landscape conservation in a Palestinian enclave-village.

In the broader framework of investigation, the project seeks to inscribe its findings in a multiplicity of forums –a multi-situated forensics– that reflect this debate in which heritage, landscape and architecture of dispossession intertwine.

There are multiple forums into which the landscape entered as an object of debate. UNESCO was the first international agency and forum that recognized Palestine as a state, opening the door for the Palestinian Authority to include parts of Palestinian landscape into the World Heritage list, through the international procedures at the World Heritage competent forum. 

But the same heritage and landscape “slid” into other forums, including the Israeli High Court, which debated it in other terms.

 

1948-49 Rodhes Agreement Original-1 1949 Rhodes Agreement: the beginning of separation (official map)

 

NewDoc 8One of the several wall simulations submitted by the Israeli army at the High Court of Justice during the hearings

 

 

Digital animations produced by Forensic Architecture

Front View

Side View

Side View [reverse]

 

Digital still views produced by Forensic Architecture

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