Beautiful Battir (part 1)
Full transcript of the podcast episode (scroll down for photo album)
Kristel: I am here in Battir, a beautiful village on the Western side of Bethlehem, South of Jerusalem. And I’m looking at beautiful green terraces, full of fruit trees, vegetables. And as you can hear, I’m close to the water of the spring of Batti, which is basically the lifeline of the village. And I’m here to talk to Hassan Mu’amer. He is from Battir and he’s going to tell us about the history of Battir. He’s going to take us on a walk around the village. And he was also very much involved in getting Battir on the UNESCO world heritage list.
[00:00:51] So let’s go and explore beautiful, Battir.
Yalla. We are here with Hassan Mu’amer and Hassan, can you introduce yourself a little bit? Who are you, what did you do in your life and what are you doing right now before we are embarking on this journey, through Battir with you?
[00:01:10] Hassan: Well, thank you for the introduction you did. I am Hassan Mu’amer. I’m one of the residents of Battir who are trying to work for the benefit of the community and the village. And that’s how I dedicated my past 10 years of work and how to develop new facilities and aspects to develop Battir and to make it a well-known place for people and visitors who learn about Palestine, not only about Battir. So I am a civil engineer. I am a landscaper. I am a GIS expert. I’m a tour guide. I am a tourism development expert as the people call me. And also I run two small businesses in the village supporting the local community and working with families and farmers in a win-win situation. So, that’s what I do in the village nowadays. And that’s where my dream will continue to develop projects in my village and within my community.
[00:02:08]Kristel: You are an engineer!? I didn’t even know that! Wow.
Hassan before we go into Battir and we start to discover some of the aspects of Battir that make it so special. Can you give us a quick overview of its history? Going back into time, I always take my podcast listeners back to the beginning so that, you know on which civilizations was Battir built.
[00:02:31] Hassan: Well, Battir is a very rich history place that dates back to the early iron age period then the Canaanite period then Romans and Byzantine and crusaders, Umayyad, Ottomans, until nowadays, where we have layers of history in this village. The location of the village played a very important role to get all this rich history, being a small village with a rich, natural resources between the most two important cities, Bethlehem and Jerusalem give Battir a special value for investment for all the past civilizations. Everywhere you go in Battir, at every corner, under each stone you will find a story, you will find something to talk about.
[00:03:16] Each civilization has its own touch in the village, and you can obviously see it clearly, wherever you walk in the village by the terraces, by the aqueduct systems. By the archeological sites by the maqams [shrines], even walking in the old city of Battir or the old village going in the seven widows quarter is another story.
[00:03:36] When you just go there and hear the current history of Battir from the people that the elderlies, they keep repeating in their songs, in their dancing in their way of life and their food in farming techniques. So you will find a very rich history of the village just by walking it. And you don’t need someone to explain it in the beginning, you will feel it.
[00:04:00] Then it will be like an extra tip, if you will find somebody to explain it, you will feel how much this place is precious.
[00:04:08] Kristel: Behind us, over the hill, there is something called Khirbet Battir, can you mention what is Khirbet Battir?
[00:04:16] Hassan: Yes. Khirbet Battir is one of the old archeological sites in the village. It used to be the first Canaanite settlement, where it was Southwest of Jerusalem as a protection area for the caravan route, which used to connect between Jaffa and Jerusalem.
[00:04:32] So its first creation was during the Canaanite period. And then the Romans, when they took over, they started developing a city over there with all its facilities and how to create a strong location for their trade and for their caravan route as well. The Khirbe has lots of stories has lots of ruins dateing back again after the Romans as well.
[00:04:56] And it’s one of the, let’s call it the old ruins of Battir where it does belong to the Canaanite period. And when you hear the stories in the village, you think it’s only ruins, but if we go back, it’s the origins of Battir, it’s our origins as Battiri inhabitants, living here nowadays. But unfortunately with the current geopolitical situation, it’s preventing us from developing anything there because one of the stories is that it was called Khirbet il Yehud, which is the Jewish ruins. And that’s explained by a story I’m hearing here and there that they found some ruins for Jewish during the first and the second revolt between the Romans and the Jewish between the first and the second centuries.
[00:05:43] And since back then it started being called the Jewish ruins neglecting totally the Canaanite ruins that dates back 3000 years before it. And with the geopolitical situation where Israeli military forces took over the area and consider it as a secured area, we as inhabitants, the original owners of the area, we cannot develop or even tell the story of our place.
[00:06:06] And one of the things I don’t like when people talk about Khirbet Battir is when some tour guides come here and they do the parrot job, they just repeat the Zionist Israeli story about the Jewish site, neglecting all the other stories. And for me, that’s one of the things I’m working on and how to present and to explain the right real story of the site.
[00:06:29] Kristel: Now, if we are looking ahead of us, we are looking at an incredible green area. It’s very lush and I think especially now we’ve had some rain and the water is coming down into the pool through an aqueduct system, but it’s coming from up the hill from one of the springs. Can you tell us a little bit about the spring and the importance of the spring for the village?
[00:06:55] Hassan: So this view you are looking from the top, getting slowly down. So I will start explaining you from the top where you can see the red stone construction over there, where it’s the head of the spring, where it’s the main source of the natural spring that existed since thousands of years and here, where you can see the touch of the past civilization, each one start developing this part to use the water as a main source of life.
[00:07:23] For all the past civilization it was more worthy than oil nowadays. So each civilization has a huge interest on how to control and develop the system and the water. And this is by the way, one out of seven examples of springs in Battir. So starting from the top, this is the head of the spring. Then going lower, down to the first terraces where it’s a dry stone wall system that has been implemented al so during the Canaanite period.
[00:07:52] Is how to change the slopes of the Valley to be flat areas that the farmers can benefit out of its fertile soil and cultivate it and use the water to irrigate all these terraces. Then, if we keep going down a little bit, we can see some parts of the aqueducts maybe in that cliff, it’s not clear from here for you.
[00:08:12]This is the ancient Canaanite aqueduct that started to distribute the water and to transport the water farther away from the spring three kilometers, further into the village. Then during the Roman period, they continued developing the aqueduct system into the one that you see with the pool right now. And it was the only reservoir that has been created for this area to supply water for all the terraces, to keep flowing down to reach the railway and even go beyond the railway to the flat area behind where we call it Al Qa’a in Battir it means a bottom. This system was developed over several stages.
The people of Battir inherited all that nowadays. And they learned by inheritance how to use it. And we, as a younger generation living here nowadays, we learned that also from our grandparents. So if, even if I am not a farmer, but I know every single detail about the aqueduct, how to use it, how to change the water, how to measure the water and how to take it from a direction to another.
[00:09:14] This is like, you grow up with these techniques and this is very important part of our history and our heritage. And one more thing to add here, that what we look in front of us, this beautiful cliff, that it’s one of the nature creation of the village, we’re one of the reasons Battir was created named after this cliff, is Battir is coming from a name in Arabic with an Arabic origin: ‘battara’ it means it has been cutted, ‘qatta’ or ‘fassal’, where this cliff was the reason and the people start constructing their houses and living areas above this cliff, where they left the whole down area for the terraces and for the agriculture.
[00:09:55] And this is a very important aspect, how the people since thousands of years, that had this mentality of preserving the area for agriculture and nowadays we are in Battir respecting that. And it’s one of the reasons that this village has no construction until nowadays, and the people respected farming this area.
[00:10:16] And for me, this is a very precious value shows the value of the human being in Battir who has the way different thinking than others than just to demolish and destroy nature and old ruins just for business or for getting money or whatever.
[00:10:34] Kristel: I would like to start walking and maybe visit the spring and then go down and maybe you can show us how do you do that, changing the water course so that all the different families can have water for cultivating their terraces?
[00:10:49]Hassan: Well, we’re reaching this area of the spring. This is a very important element of the village and it’s an important inscription made during the Roman period and you can see the frame and you can see few letters remains here. If you look closer, I did a scan for this to get the inscription itself and I discovered that it’s mentioning two groups of the Roman army, one called Macedonia the 11th and second called Claudio the 5th who used to camp and settle next to the spring for six months. And they did this sign in the memory of their camping here. Next to it just here, you can see the channel.
[00:11:48] If you just look inside, you could see how deep is this channel and how shaped is it. And this was one of the main sources of the spring. By that time, the water used to come out from here. What’s happening, all this climate change, we are talking about thousands of years, the water level went down.
[00:12:09] So the people had to create another access for the water to get from the other side. But this channel is still assigned for the farmers now, when we do have a good season of rain where the aquifers get full, so the water level goes up and the water gets out from here. And that means for the farmer, we going to have enough water for the rest of the year.
[00:12:32] So this is our sign in Battir where we call it ‘sirdab’, ‘sirdab il-‘ain’ which means the narrow tunnel of the spring. It used to be a Canaanite aqueduct system in the beginning where they shaped the stones to let the water go freely out and they can control it.
[00:12:49] Kristel: Wow. Yeah. And do you know, it’s so special that this system is still existing until today.
[00:12:56] Can you explain about the families that are using this water in the land?
[00:13:02] Hassan: Absolutely. Will tell you more about the families, but before we go to the family, this is another outlet that was created during the Canaanite period. It’s the natural source of the spring, but they shaped the rocky area to be like a channel or a pipe or an outlet, so they can control the water. And then it goes to the roman bath and to the additional parts of the spring that has been developed by the families of Battir in the fifties. The families of Battir who used to inherit the spring and all area around, they also had their touch on the spring and they had their own system of distribution and managing the site. So first thing they did, they came and they did the full renovation of the spring building the facade of the spring itself, creating different outlets for the spring, where they can fill to take back houses, where they can have a place for shower and for cleaning stuff, and where they also have a place for their animals where they can feed it and also wash their vegetables before to take it home or to take to the market. These families are eight families. They are the main eight families of Battir. Some of them like over nine hundreds, thousand years existing here.
[00:14:11]Most of the families, they have all the descriptions of their origins and where they came from. These eight families they had a joint system together where they share everything in the village, the land, the water, and so on. So everything is divided on eight in Battir.
[00:14:28] Even the weekdays, we have eight days a week in Battir that’s different than anywhere else in the world. And the reason is these eight families. So each family has the water for one day, at least, per the week, so the circle, it takes eight days in a place of seven. So we don’t care if today’s Thursday, tomorrow’s Friday.
[00:14:45] We care who’s the family that owns the water that day. So we have a day called Mu’amer, Butma, Bataha, Qatush, Abu Na’ema, Salem, Ayesh and Abadallah. These are the eight days of Battir
[00:14:56] Kristel: Wow. I like that.
[00:15:08] We are now passing by the boys school of Battir. We can hear the sound of the kids in the background. They have a very beautiful environment in which they are getting their classes because they are right next to the Roman spring.
[00:15:29] Did you go to this school too?
[00:15:31] Hassan: No, not this one. This one was for the girls on my time. Main school for boys was next to the railway track where we are heading there. And that’s the school where I went to 14 years.
[00:15:45] She’s my sister.
Hi. How are you? Nice to meet you too,
[00:15:50] Kristel: We’re going down the stairs, lots of stairs towards the Roman pool. Next to the Roman pool there is the terrace of the restaurant of Hassan. And you can sit here and enjoy the beautiful view, have a drink, or have a typical Palestinian dinner or lunch or breakfast.
[00:16:08] Wow, the water is really high, right?
[00:16:10] Hassan: Yeah. It’s the good season for water harvesting of the year. And it gets all to fill the pool for all over the season until April / May, when the farmer will start using this water for distribution and irrigating their plots.
[00:16:26] Kristel: So now in the winter time, you don’t need to use this water because you will have enough rain, right?
[00:16:31] Hassan: Yes. There is no need for using the water. And if we will talk about this subject, actually, this is a very important point that we have all this water in between our hands, that we only can store it in this pool, but we cannot store it anywhere else. So when we have the pool full, the water floods out to the terraces and it keep going down to the Valley where many people ask me where this water goes and they say, it’s wasted.
[00:16:56] I say, no, it’s not wasted. It goes to the lower aquifers, actually, then the Israelis pump it and sell it back to us in summertime. So it’s part of the problem that we’re facing even, in how to manage our natural resources. And because the spring it’s located in area C, we need the permission to create reservoirs or to pump this water, which is very difficult.
[00:17:17] Several people tried in the village for the past years how to find a way that we could benefit out of the water, especially that we only use between 10 to 15% of it only in summertime, the 80 or 90% left of the spring, it just goes for, not the benefit of the community. So that’s part of like hopefully inshallah in Palestine, we’ll get free we will have enough water to supply it for all our neighbor villages, not only to Battir because we have a good quantity of water that we cannot control so far.
[00:17:50] Kristel: It’s not that this region doesn’t have enough water. There is water. The rainwater is stored in between the limestone. There are lots of springs, but it’s just that it’s not equally divided and that some people have control over the water.
[00:18:03] So we’re walking down more stairs and we are reaching to the terraces themselves. And what I see here is an aqueduct a small gutter through which the water is coming out from the pool. Yeah. And it’s going down here and then it will reach to the terraces. Can you explain how do you make sure that it goes to the left or to the right, to the different families?
[00:18:29] Hassan: Yeah, well, so we will start from here where you can see this, what we call the valve. And it’s the main point to control between the outlet and the inlet water from the pool and outside. And here we have two different sections of the channel itself. One where you are seeing now the water is flowing or flooding down.
[00:18:50] And the other one is blocked where it takes the water more to the right side, all the way to the right side terraces over there. We will walk just a little bit to follow the water and I will show you how I split it from one place to another. And it’s a very simple technique. Where you have like a T sections or junctions to split from a point to another using gravity.
[00:19:11] So you don’t need to pump actually the water, the water flow is enough to transport the water from a point to another. And from this, T sections, you can take it to the left or right terraces in lower levels from the main channel. So let’s say we are here standing on a zero level, which is the level of this pool.
[00:19:32] The lower one just on the left side of us is one meter below, right? So that’s enough to lead the water flood from this level to that level. So I will just open a small piece of fabric, just put in here in one of these junctions or a bunch of dry grass too, to block, this T junctions.
[00:19:50] So we’ll just open this one and you have to watch it from the other side.
[00:19:54] Kristel: Okay. I’m going to go to the other side. So what he’s picking up looks like an old towel that somebody put there to cover the hole. So he opened, he opened the hole and now the water is coming out, down here through a pipe.
[00:20:16] Yeah, and it starts flowing down,
[00:20:18] Hassan: It starts flowing down. And when I open just you see, this is square structure, what we call it: ‘holazane’, the common name in Battir, which is like the joint point for the connections. And then it’s linked with another channel that distributes the water all along the plot, the farm plot.
[00:20:38] And within the plot itself, we create some soil channels made out of the soil or the clay itself where it floods inside the plot and then you do the squares, which is this system that you see here. It’s like small parcels. And then you let the water flood from one square to another using like a zigzag system left and right.
[00:20:58] Until you start from the edge until you reach the channel back and that’s the system. So you do a few rows of these parcels and then you complete it all then you have to go block the water from the main junction that we started with it.
[00:21:13] Kristel: I think you’ll have to block it again, now right? To make sure that that is not,… but now we have to talk about something else because how do you make sure that this water is equally divided between all those different families?
[00:21:27] Hassan: Yes, that’s a very important subject and that’s where the magnificence of the system and also the magnificence of the people of Battir how do they care and share every aspect of life together? We have the eight days a week system, which I told you about earlier. So each family, it owns the water for one day, at least, per week.
[00:21:50] But it’s not enough to get the water only for once a week. You need to irrigate between two to three times during the week, depends on the type of species you are growing, mainly eggplant, which needs a lot of water and the famous Battiri eggplant needs a lot of water. So how to get a good eggplant with enough quantities of water?
[00:22:12] This is how the people of Battir created this joint system among them. So they used the system, which was implemented during the Roman period called the measurement stick or what we call in Battir ‘el ma’adud’. It’s using one of the leaves that I will show you right now. And to take it and to convert it like a meter system by a very specific and smart way that I will explain it when we’ll get the leave itself.
[00:22:38] So I’ll show you that also.
[00:22:41] Kristel: So this is the famous measure stick.
[00:22:44] Hassan: Yes. It’s one of the local plants. I told you it grows around the pool so you don’t need to pick it like, from a special place. It’s like bamboo. I think in English it’s called white lentil, something like that. And it’s like a light kind of plant it’s not thick and empty from the middle, so it’s easy to handle. If you look from this side, so basically they bring a leaf, a dry leaf of this and take all the surrounding keep the main one. And then they go in the pool where there is a mark for the lowest point of the pool and they measure the height of the water and they use a lemon thorn from the tree to put it inside the leave with the highest level of the water. So this they know in total, how is the quantity, what’s the height of the water, knowing the dimensions of the pool. This gives us a specific volume. An area cross a height it gives a volume. So how to divide this volume between others? They use the finger distance.
[00:23:49] So every time they put the finger distance, they put another mark. A finger distance or another mark, it depends on number of farmers who are coming to use the water. So basically, the water is owned by one family. But at that day, the farmer who owns, or the family, which owns the water, they share it with all the others using this system.
[00:24:10] So in that day you use my water a few days after if I need the water, I would share yours and so on. So this is a system created equal rights of sharing the water in the village, influence justice, because the last person who wait for all the others, he gets double amount. Because he has spent all his day waiting for all the others.
[00:24:31] And also maybe there are soil or stones stuck in the bottom of the pool, so to influence justice, we give him double amount than the others. Third thing, I wish this system could be implemented in many other things in life because it created a zero problems in the village, according to water or the main resources of agriculture.
[00:24:52] So it’s a very fantastic system that we inherited and still farmers use it until nowadays. If one day you come to visit Battir I encourage you to come early morning and watch the farmers in summertime doing and implementing the system. And you can see that as a reality. \
[00:25:09] Kristel: At what time in the morning?
[00:25:11]Hassan: By sunrise.
Yes. They start like by sunrise doing the splitting system and then they start one by one until they do all their irrigation activity. By that day.
[00:25:23] Kristel: Does that mean that the one who has to do that has to go in the pool and get wet?
[00:25:27] Hassan: Exactly. But they do the system actually in summer times, we don’t have the pool so full, like what we’ve seen today, 1.5 meter height, more or less in that average. Yes.
[00:25:39] Kristel: As we are walking now, we are going under the cliff that we saw at the beginning of the tour. And it is a high cliff that is reaching over us, I will post some pictures of that on the Kofi page, you will have to become a follower of the Kofi page, where I post some very special pictures that I don’t post anywhere else.
[00:26:00] So that is something that you’ll have to like and follow.
[00:26:03] This is limestone, right?
[00:26:05] Hassan: Yeah. This is limestone and this is the cliff we’ve seen from the other side and you can see the shape, which has been created for the past millions of years by the wind and water movements and erosions. To create this shape takes over a million years.
[00:26:21] So there is no human being has ever shaped or touched the stone, but the cliff itself was used by the community of Battir and it’s become an important spot for the people. Where you can see it’s now about 11 o’clock or something, and you can see the sun is just on the other side. So it will take a while until 1:00 PM or 2:00 PM until the sun will reach this point where this cliffs or underneath of this cliff remains cool. So this spot, known in the village as the Frigidaire. Yeah. Where the people pick their products from the land and they bring it here. And if we touch the cliff, you will feel the temperature actually.
[00:26:59] Kristel: Let me try that. Oh, that’s cold. That’s really cold. So the sun never touches here?
[00:27:06] Hassan: It touches in the afternoon where the sun goes more to the West. So it reflects the rays onto this side. So it takes a while. So that’s smart how the people used the nature and every aspect around them for their benefit. So this place is well known as the Frigidaire, but also like a cool place where people used in the past to come and chat a bit or talk while they’re bringing the vegetable or picking up the vegetables and so on.
[00:27:30] Kristel: There is no romantic stories here because it looks like it could be?
[00:27:35]Hassan: Absolutely, absolutely. Because this is one of the secrets when I was trying to collect the oral history of the village. And there was always this smile in people faces when I’m just mentioning this. And I knew later on from my grandmother that this was the place where young boys could see young girls when they come to the village and they like point them out to be their wives in the future. So there is a lot of romantic stories also here.
[00:28:02]Kristel: Starting from here. Yeah. That’s beautiful.
[00:28:05] Hassan: So while walking down continuing in the path that leads to all the terraces, I can show an intersection with two split channels that you can see here. One is open and one is covered, and this is a different system also in how to take the water upper level onto the area.
[00:28:22] Before if the water keep flooding down, will continue to reach the lower plots, but how to irrigate the ones on the right here, you can see, there is a pipe or this part of the aqueduct that you can see here, so I need to take the water on this side. I need to block it by using fabric or using stones or using whatever thing to fill the water on this side.
[00:28:44] And then the water will start going to this direction. I don’t have how much things, but I will manage. I think
[00:28:55] you can see the water start going slowly
[00:29:04] Wow. It’s genius.
[00:29:09] Things from around you, you just need to, to look around you, whatever you find around you, a stone, some dry grass or green grass and use it to just create the blockage for taking the direction. And this is how basically you learn from your grandparents. They never come with tools or with equipments, they just come with the tools they were going to work the land. Yes, but it’s not for blocking. You need to think and look around you and to use it for that. And it become like a simple system for everyone just coming here, do that by their own. It doesn’t need a boss. It doesn’t need a master.
[00:29:45] Kristel: And the water is so fresh and clear. It’s really cool. It’s really clean, clear water. Would you drink it?
[00:29:53] Hassan: We don’t drink from the open channels for one reason that the open channels always getting dirt and stones and so on that makes the water, maybe have some bacteria’s and so. So we do only drink from the head of the spring directly where it’s the main outlet to make sure that it’s totally cleaner. Now it’s winter season for us. So there is not much usage of the aqueduct. So maybe when we go a little bit down, we will find some blocked areas of the aqueduct because of all the waterfall that came all along the path , so sometimes it’s flood inside the aqueduct and block some connections of it . And that’s common for winter season.
[00:30:35] So what do we do by end of spring season? When we start summer cultivation, we come for one day to clean the whole main aqueduct. Then each one is responsible for the aqueduct that goes, through his plot.
From here, there is a wooden sign saying Abu Yazid shrine, which is an important cultural landmark in the village, which is also a Sufi maqam that existed in Battir one out of three other maqams, shrines in the village.
[00:31:04] And this guy was one of the well-known people who came after like the second century, the beginning of the 13th century, to the area, to Palestine. And he existed in three places, all over historical Palestine, as the stories we gathered so far. So if anybody knows about him existing in anywhere, please let us know.
[00:31:23]We just found his shrine in the old city of Jerusalem, another one and one in the Northern part of Nablus in the town of Sebastia. There they call him Bay Yazid and here we call him Abu Yazid. This is based on the dialect of the village. We found a lot of stories about him. If he came from Tunisia area to this area.
[00:31:45] And there is another story saying he’s came from Bustan, is a town in Bilad Faris, which is Iran, we could consider it nowadays. And he was one of the Sufi imams that he was seeking for his spiritual relation with God. So that’s where he built most of his maqams in a way that’s far away from the community or the built up area, to get the spiritual relation directly with God in a open atmosphere with a nice view.
[00:32:13] And this is like a social interaction that the Sufis used for their spirituality and for their way of thinking and participating or practicing their religion.
[00:32:24] Kristel: Yeah. If anybody wants to know more about Sufism they can go and listen to episode three, because we had a complete episode about Sufism.
[00:32:31] So are you saying that this was kind of a zawiya where he would also receive people or this was a place where he would retreat for himself and have a closer relation to God?
[00:32:42] Hassan: This was not a zawiya. This was a place for himself to retreat and to have a closure to God, the zawiyah was built in another location in the village that we will see later on.
[00:32:53] And the zawiya where also another Sufis from Darwish, they would come and stay and do their activities and practices also in that place. But this location used to be for himself only. And this location became like a well-known spot for the village as he’s a good man. One who could make wishes come true.
[00:33:12] So the people from the community, they could come to the place, light a candle, inside the shrine and make a wish and they ask Abu Yazid to help them to make their wish come true. And this is kind of philosophy. It existed in all the religions, in Christianity in Judaism and Islam. That it’s a way to get closer to God through some good people that they are well-known and they ask them for favors. Many people, they would come and bring food also to feed the poor people the name of Abu Yazid. So it was like cultural, religious aspect, with the beauty of the space that makes like a full combination. I like it a lot.
[00:33:53] Kristel: It’s like people these days are going on yoga and meditation retreats, the same idea. We are all looking for some time away from the urban towns and cities and just get closer connection to our creator or to our nature, maybe. So we’re walking down.
[00:34:19] Hassan: Here you can see one of the blockades I’ve been telling you about, that you can see that in this footpath the water was flooding and it was making like a huge soil erosion and all of it, it’s blocked the aqueduct. There is still a flow for the water, but you can see the stones and the soil inside. And this is where we need to come after and reopen it and clean it.
[00:34:43] And also we are doing now a project to re-maintain the dry stone walls, what we call salasel or sanasel in Battir, which is the old system of using natural stones that existed in the nature to build this kind of retaining walls. Between the terraces and refill them with a soil where they can cultivate. So the whole system of this area is built based on the sanasel or the dry stone wall system.
[00:35:10] And in Battir we have a magnificent number also of this dry stone walls. And it’s the biggest, maybe in the region that we figured out after the research we’ve done between 2007, 2011. We have 554.000 linear meters of these dry stone walls all over Battir from different heights between 40 centimeters up to eight meters that you cannot find anywhere else except in Battir.
[00:35:40] The system itself, it exists all over Palestine. But with this intensive number and intensive efforts of construction of the sanasel for the past history, Battir is magnificent for that.
[00:35:51] Kristel: Wow. So the function of the terraces is mainly to make sure that you don’t have erosion and so that you can keep the water in a dry area. And what else?
[00:36:03] Hassan: Water, prevent soil erosion, make depth of the soil, where the roots of the trees can grow more store water more in the bottom for different type of crops that the one you use in the tops. So that’s for, when you go to the terraces, that’s cultivated for olive trees. It’s mainly on the upper areas.
[00:36:22] When you go for other type of trees, like almonds, lemons, they go in the bottom areas where the water can keep more humid and more water inside. Also dry stone walls used to be as barriers or boundaries between land plots between ownership. We actually have four classifications of the dry stone walls in Battir.
[00:36:41]Once we call it the irrigated terraces, which like this example where it’s followed by the aqueducts. And so the water would go through, we have what’s called the cross channel terraces, where it goes through the valleys and create like kind of dams where the water flood from one to another.
[00:36:58] Then we have the enclosed terraces which is like frames drawn to create boundaries between abandoned areas and none abandoned areas. And it’s also a place where you can mark and make a fence for your land. And then the fourth type, we have the contour terraces which is the terraces that built with the contour lines to convert the slopes to flat areas where they can use, and it could be irrigated or non-irrigated terraces, and it could be with different type of crops or cultivation.
[00:37:31] So the drystone wall system is a big science. There’s a big history. Very rich. If you go in depth, you will find a lot of stories. The types of stones, the techniques of building for retaining for splitted walls, but one of the most magnificent elements you would see in Palestine using the dry stone walls, not only the terraces that’s cultivated, it’s also the watchtowers, agricultural watchtowers, made out of the same system with different shapes and designs, rectangular, circular. And it has been built with the same system for the farmers to be alternative home or storage area while they’re working in the field. And if you go to Wadi el Makhrour for example, you will find 258 Watchtowers all along the area, that also was part of the results of our survey. All of these numbers that I’m mentioning now, it was the universal values of Battir that we used for the inscription of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
[00:38:27] Kristel: We will talk about that a little bit later on because that makes, of course that Battir is now so special and there is a special spotlight on this village.
[00:38:38] But we are still heading down and I have to be careful because there is some stones, loose stones,
[00:38:49] It’s very lush and green. The almond trees are blossoming. I developed a bit of a hay fever in Palestine. So in this season especially, I started to have problem with the hay fever with my eyes and my nose. But I took some antihistamine in the morning to make sure that I can go through this day fine.
[00:39:10] Do you know what this is?
[00:39:11] Hassan: Well, this yellow blooming flower. It’s very funny. When I will tell you the name that you will recognize it immediately, and that’s where the bottle you go to the restaurant, you find it in the same color. What do you think it is when you go to any fast food restaurant? You get few bottles.
[00:39:28] One is red. One is what? Yellow what’s in there?
[00:39:33] Kristel: Sprite?
[00:39:34] Hassan: No. Okay, so you go to the fast food you have the ketchup, the red bottle. And then you have the mustard. This is mustard. This is ‘khardel’. This is where it came from. And this is how they pick the color of the bottle also. And if you taste it, you can, you can eat it.
[00:39:54] Kristel: I’m going to try that. So this is fresh mustard. This is before it’s a dried mustard seed. Ooh, it’s a bit spicy. ‘Bihrik bil Arabi’ [spicy in Arabic]. Ah, nice. I really didn’t know that. And this?
[00:40:10] Hassan: This is Khobeze. Some people call it cheese weed. Some people call it hibiscus, it’s the same family but we do eat it actually. We take the leafs and then we make it like a stew and then we eat it with some olive oils and lemon. It’s very delicious.
[00:40:25] Kristel: It must be high in vitamins and in iron, probably, greens?
[00:40:28] Hassan: [00:40:28] Well, Palestinians are well-known for eating lots of greens. Sometimes they call us the sheep because you just go outside and you find hundreds of things to eat.
[00:40:38] So while you’re walking around, you keep picking stuff from the nature and the wilderness and just keep in it. And especially for this season where you have like a good number of things to eat along the way. So I can see just where we are standing. We just picked the ‘khardal’ the khobeze and now we will get the ‘shomar’, the fennel.
[00:40:56] So if you just go for a tour in the nature, I think you are going to get a good collection for a very, very nice meal.
[00:41:04] Kristel: Hoppa, in his mouth. This is your breakfast. Second breakfast
[00:41:14]Hassan: This tree you see with all these yellow seeds and fruits, it’s one of the original native trees of Palestine. It’s called ‘Zanzalakht’. It’s the trees that existed in Palestine since thousands of years. And then the people by experience, that’s how actually they discovered all the green stuff to eat.
[00:41:36] They experienced everything. And then they picked the best, the most delicious eatable ones. The same with this tree, that they picked the fruits of it, trying to get anything out of it. So it’s not tasty to eat, as the fruit doesn’t have a good taste and it doesn’t give any oil. So therefore people start replacing this tree, planting more olive trees when they learned about the olives.
[00:42:02] So this is where you start finding it vanishing from the landscape. Then a few years ago, we just learned about the story of the ‘zanzalakh’ and we brought some of it and we planted in Battir in several locations just to bring it back to the origins.
[00:42:17]Kristel: As the memory of the village.
[00:42:21] Hassan: This plant it’s called ‘tayun’ and it’s like a very oily plant that we don’t use it for eating, but we use it for injuries.
[00:42:30] So it has like a very high percentage of special kind of oils. And then if you just smash it you will feel the oil is getting out of it. And many people, they just use it for injuries or some skin injuries or problems and so on. Sometimes in nature, people use it when they have like some injuries, they just pick it.
[00:42:49] Kristel: You know, it grows also close to these stinging nettles. And I remember that in Holland, my grandmother used to tell me that close to the stinging nettle, you will always find another type of plant that can help you to get rid of the bites from the stinging nettle. So, right. Yeah. That’s the old women’s wisdoms. We need to keep those stories.
[00:43:11] Hassan: One of the magnificent things I like about Battir how women are involved in taking care of all what we’ve seen around us. Farming, cultivation, marketing their products, cooking it. So the women in the village,is not like a second party or a third place. She’s hand to hand if even not more than the man to be present in the field.
[00:43:36] She’s my grandmother who goes to the field to cultivate and pick. And she’s my mother, when she comes and cook and do it. She’s my sister when you saw her just walking around here. So the woman is very presented and committed to every single activity we do in Battir. And we cannot ever split her from the system or say she should have her equal rights because she has all the rights.
[00:43:59] She’s the one who gains all the rights. This is a fact, and you will see how many ladies we’re going to meet during our walk. And you see how much they working on who are the one managing everything here mostly.
[00:44:11] Kristel: Yeah. What would we do without the women?
(This is part 1 of Beautiful Battir)
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