November 2, 2006 – The Separation Barrier in Wadi Fukin

The Separation Barrier in Wadi Fukin:  Breach of Israeli Commitment to World Heritage Convention

Tel Aviv, November 2, 2006

EcoPeace Middle East today officially called on the Headquarters of UNESCO in Paris to intervene in preventing harm to a potential World Heritage site. The planned separation barrier in the area of Wadi Fukin will be – if erected – a serious breach of Israeli commitment to the protection of World Heritage Sites.

Seven years ago, Israel signed UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, and presently even serves as a representative on the World Heritage committee. The purpose of the convention is to protect sites of universal natural and cultural heritage.

However, the Israeli military’s plan to further the building of the Separation Barrier in the area of Wadi Fukin threatens to breach this commitment to the Convention.

Wadi Fukin, a narrow valley located in the northwestern Judean hills, is a perfect example of the preservation of traditional agriculture thousands of years old, based on a system of 11 carstic springs and over one hundred irrigation pools fed by open water aqueducts. It is for this reason that the area has been included in the Palestinian survey of cultural landscape sites. The site is expected to be included in the future listing of Palestinian World Heritage Sites, when the Palestinian Authority will become a member of the convention.

The Separation Barrier plans to cut through the length of the Wadi for several kilometers, with a width of 60-100 meters that will include roads, a trench and barbed wire fencing. According to a landscape and hydrology survey, this will destroy the landscape of the area, will harm the system of springs, threatening to dry them up. The result will be not only serious damage to the source of livelihoods of residents of Wadi Fukin, but also to the cultural landscape that has been preserved for hundreds if not thousands of years.

“Israel, as a member of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, as well as a signatory of the convention, has committed itself not to damage any potential world heritage site”, says Zacharya Tagar of EcoPeace  Middle East. “The Palestinian Authority is unable to list the site with UNESCO as it is not presently a signatory of the convention, but that fact should not prevent such a unique site from receiving the protection it deserves”. Damaging the site would bring international criticism upon Israel, similar to the condemnation that the Taliban received in the aftermath of its destruction of the giant Buddha in Afghanistan.

The security needs for the fence at is proposed route is questionable. The planned Separation Barrier in this area is actually a double fence, as a second fence is planned east of Wadi Fukin. Not only will the western fence be a duplication, but it will end several kilometers south of the village and will leave a large portion totally unfenced. This section is expected to use alternate security measures. “Instead of bringing irreversible destruction to such an important site of universal value, why not simply extend the alternate security measures” claims Itai Haviv, a resident of the nearby village of Tsur Hadassah, active in the “Good Water Neighbors” project.

The call to UNESCO was submitted following an EcoPeace tour of the area to defense officials, whereby damage that would be done by the proposed barrier was clearly pointed out. To date, no reaction has been received for steps to prevent construction.

EcoPeace Middle East did succeed, however, in delaying the beginning of construction, in order to appeal the plan.

To coordinate a tour of the area, please contact Zach Tagar 03-5605383 ext. 7, or 052-5858557