Palestinian Christians battle Israel barrier route



DIAA HADID | AP

Published — Thursday 25 April 2013

Last update 25 April 2013 1:17 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

BEIT JALA, West Bank: Palestinians in this Christian village are hoping the new pope can succeed where others have failed — pressing Israel to drop plans to build a stretch of its West Bank separation barrier through their picturesque valley.
Since Vatican properties are affected, residents have appealed to the Roman Catholic Church to use more of its significant influence in the Holy Land to reroute the barrier, even as local Catholic leaders hold a special protest Mass in threatened orchards each week.
The Vatican has called on Israel not to seize the lands, but local Palestinian Catholics want the new pontiff to lean more heavily on Israel.
“We have hope in the new pope, as he is close to the poor and the oppressed,” said the Rev. Ibrahim Shomali, the Palestinian priest who has been leading the protests.
Israel has been building the barrier since 2002 in response to a wave of suicide bombings early last decade that killed hundreds of people. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out Palestinian attackers.
Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab because it zigzags through the West Bank. When complete, nearly 10 percent of the West Bank, including many Israeli settlements, would lie on Israel’s side, according to the United Nations. Roughly two-thirds of the 700 kilometer (450-mile) structure has been built.
Beit Jala is a postcard-pretty Christian town of 16,000 in the overwhelmingly Muslim West Bank. The likeness of the Palestinian patron, Saint George, is carved into building facades. Groceries sell items banned under Islamic law. A bowling alley faces an Israeli military base.
Yet the village feels hemmed in. It abuts the biblical town of Bethlehem on one side. On another, barbed wire separates Beit Jala from the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo. Part of the separation barrier seals in another side, protecting a nearby road used by Jewish settlers. Residents say the planned stretch of construction will close off one of the village’s last remaining open spaces.
“They are crowding us inside a ghetto,” sighed Issa Khalilieh, whose family lost 12 acres (five hectares) in years of Israeli confiscations, and is poised to lose another three acres (one hectare) to the barrier.
An Israeli defense official said Jerusalem would remain “open and vulnerable” if the section isn’t built. He noted that during the height of violence a decade ago, militants fired at nearby Gilo from Beit Jala. Although the fighting has quieted, he said Palestinians now use the valley to sneak into Israel to work. The official spoke anonymously under ministry policy.
In the Beit Jala area, Israel’s Defense Ministry plans to seize some 790 acres (320 hectares) of the Cremisan Valley, said lawyer Ghaith Nasser. Israel’s Defense Ministry would not confirm how much land they intend to seize.
Some one-third of the land is Vatican-owned, with a monastery surrounded by pines, playground and vineyard that monks have used to make wine since 1882. Nearby is a convent where nuns run a school for 600 Palestinian students. Some 60 families own the rest, a series of terraced olive and apricot orchards plunging into the valley. Residents go there to relax, barbecue and pray.
If the route goes as planned, the monastery and orchards will be on Israel’s side of the barrier. The convent and school will be on the Palestinian side, surrounded by high concrete walls, lawyers said.
Since January 2012, about two dozen people have gathered in the groves every Friday to pray to save their lands. George Abu Eid, whose family’s five acres (two hectares) of olive and lemon orchards are threatened, said activists hope to build international support.
On a recent windy Friday, some two dozen worshippers gathered in a circle around Rev. Shomali, who used a cloth-covered table as a makeshift altar, held down with a crucifix. Palestinians and European Christian volunteers sang hymns. One woman read part of a Bible passage. Rev. Shomali reminded the congregation that Christians are obligated to help the oppressed.
Rev. Shomali’s protest Mass isn’t sanctioned by the church. Instead, he said he was making an honest Christian act of standing with people defending their land. He said the village plans to send a delegation to the Vatican to plead their case.
Residents have been challenging the project in court for years, and construction remains on hold pending a ruling. A Catholic legal aid group is assisting the court battle, and the Latin Patriarchate, which oversees local Catholic affairs, said it sympathizes with the residents. The Vatican signed an October letter that condemned the barrier’s route and called on Israel to keep the Cremisan valley attached to Beit Jala.
Rev. Shomali and residents said the letter wasn’t enough. They want the Vatican to either join their legal case or publically condemn Israel.
“If the church stands with us, we would have our land. Israel is scared of the church and her voice,” said Rev. Shomali.
Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the government is in “direct dialogue” with the Vatican and affected monks and nuns in the area to try come to an amicable decision.
“We have been trying to make our case and reach an agreement on what would be possible,” he said.
A senior church official confirmed discussions were underway with Israel. He spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future state.
For years, they have staged marches in villages affected by the barrier, sometimes succeeding in altering the route of the barrier. An Israeli-Palestinian documentary on the fight of residents in the village of Bilin to reroute the barrier was nominated for an Oscar this year.
The route of the barrier has drawn accusations that Israel is using the structure to incorporate some Jewish settlements, how home to more than 500,000 Israelis, into its future borders.
“The barrier has a route that ... is clearly not defined by what Israel calls security reasons,” said Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim, an advocacy group that monitors the route of the barrier around Jerusalem. “The planned route goes way into the West Bank to put the settlement blocs within its area.”
Israeli governments have said that they intend to keep the main settlement blocs close to the old 1949 cease-fire line along the West Bank under a peace treaty, offering the Palestinians Israeli land in exchange, but negotiations have failed to produce an agreement.
___
Follow Hadid on twitter.com/diaahadid

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: In a fresh boost for relations between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, the Kingdom has decided to sign a memorandum of understanding on Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) with Dhaka. The Kingdom endorsed a proposal in this regard at a meeting be...
The Indonesian mission is hopeful detained Indonesian pilgrims will be free “very soon.” The mission is trying to persuade Saudi authorities of their nationals’ innocence.Eleven Indonesian pilgrims, who arrived in the holy city of Makkah to perform U...
JEDDAH: Police at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh arrested a Saudi hacker after a government organization in Al-Leith in Makkah complained that he had hacked its website, according to an online newspaper.Col. Atti Al-Qurashi, spokesman fo...
JEDDAH: The special criminal court has sentenced a former military official to nine years in jail for joining Daesh and traveling to Syria to fight.A fine of SR5,000 was also slapped on him and he was barred from traveling abroad for nine years after...
JEDDAH: Saudi-Indian ties have reached a new high with the arrival of an Indian Air Force (IAF) flying contingent at the King Fahd Air Base in Taif.The mission, comprising more than 100 high-ranking IAF officers and airmen onboard Sukhoi MKI fighter...
RIYADH: A tripartite agreement among the National Handicraft Program, Prisons Department and the Technical and Vocational Training Corp. (TVTC) was recently signed in the presence of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tou...
JEDDAH: British authorities have opened investigations into the plane crash that led to the death of three members of the Binladin family.Investigations depend on the black box which registers the entire plane’s data, including speed, position of mob...
JAZAN: In a tragic accident, a speeding fuel truck caused four deaths and injuries to many people when it collided head on with five cars on the northern entrance of Abu Areesh area of Jazan, according to a website.The truck deviated from its path an...
JEDDAH: Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Abdul Lateef Al-Asheikh has directed all the municipal authorities to closely scrutinize the election candidates’ credentials to thwart violation of rules.This is to ensure that the candidates meet all the...
Mohammed Mokammel Hossain, labor consul, Bangladesh Consulate, Jeddah * Which particular aspect of Saudi Arabia you like the most? Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.* Can you tell us your favorite and oft-repeated Arabic word? Insha’Allah. * W...
RIYADH: Expatriates feel Saudi Arabia is a safer place than their home countries despite the fact that the Kingdom is leading a war against the Yemeni rebels and other terror organizations and a couple of suicide attacks in the recent past. Mahmoud T...
RIYADH: The maximum medical policy or contract for visitors is SR100,000, which covers expenses on emergency treatment, maternity charges, traffic accident injuries, dialysis and medical treatment in or outside the Kingdom. Making the above announce...
JEDDAH: The city and its surrounding areas sweltered on Monday, with the maximum temperature rising to 44 degree Celsius and relative humidity being recorded at 85 percent. The weather department has forecast a similar situation in Jeddah on Tuesday....
JEDDAH: A National Academy for Energy in Dammam and a private technical technical college, both exclusively for women, will be opened in the Easter Province.The General Organization of Technical and Vocational Training is in the process of implementi...
AL-AHSA: Masjid Joatha or Joatha Mosque is a center of attraction in Al-Ahsa with many visitors and tourists thronging the place of worship, which was believed to have been built in the seventh year of Hijri (629 AD).The mosque has been restored as p...

Stay Connected

Facebook