Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Christians and Muslims united at weekly Cremisan protests

Juicebox Gallery

By Amy Mac - September 15, 2015
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Videos] [In Pictures] [Features]
Tags: [Cremisan Valley] [the Wall]

Photos by Catherine Anderson.
Video by Jordan Woodgate.

 

Every Sunday morning, residents of Beit Jala, a village outside Bethlehem, gather for mass at the Latin Church. As a small community of Christian Palestinians, families come with their children to sing, pray and take communion.

 

For the past four weeks, Parish Priest Father Aktham and members of the Beit Jala community have concluded morning prayers by walking down to the Cremisan Valley, where Israel plans to construct a wall on privately owned Palestinian land. The valley runs along the seamline between the West Bank and Jerusalem and contains agricultural terraces belonging to families of Beit Jala as well as a Monastery and Convent.

There, they protest the planned Israeli construction of the settlement barrier in the valley which will eventually make its way through the farming land of 58 Beit Jala residents.

Four weeks ago preparations started for the construction of the land. The area was converted into a closed military zone, olive trees were uprooted and replaced with Israeli military presence and bulldozers, the land was levelled to prepare for the construction of the wall.

On Sunday, Sept. 13, Father Aktham was joined by religious leaders from across Palestine, including Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, to protest the confiscation of residents’ land.

The religious leaders arrived to show support for the Christian Palestinian community, whose lands and livelihood from the olive trees are currently being destroyed to make way for the imposing wall.

Alongside them were locals and activists from Bethlehem, many of whom were Muslim Palestinians who arrived to show support for their Christian neighbours.

"[The Cremisan Valley] is Christian land, not Muslim land, but they are entering the fight together," said Bethlehem local and photojournalist Mohammad Abdalla.

"It’s good, because they are shaking hands together, they are [against] the occupation together. [The Muslim protestors] saw something wrong and want to change it. They are doing something from the heart."

Christian and Muslim locals, alongside activists and journalists, stood by the religious leaders who had gathered at Bir 'Ona, reading passages from the bible before marching peacefully down through the valley.

"God please give us peace," they chanted, as members of the Beit Jala community and their fellow protesters followed behind, waving Palestinian flags.

On the either side where the protesters walked, the ground had turned to dust, uprooted olive trees lying in piles.

"This was my land," said Issa Elshatleh, one of the landowners, pointing to rubble and uprooted trees.

Asked if he believed he could save any of his trees, Elshatleh pointed to a bare leafed olive tree situated amongst the rubble. "Maybe this one. The rest? No."

The olive harvest season in Palestine starts in less than three weeks and most of the landowners, like Elshatleh, have been left with little to harvest.

As the group of protestors approached Israeli soldiers, young boys and members of local activist organisations began throwing stones in resistance to the Israeli presence, triggering a wave of flash grenades and tear gas from the Israeli soldiers.

The remnants of the gas hung in the air, stinging the eyes of protesters.

For many of the religious leaders who had walked alongside Father Aktham in prayer, the throwing of rocks and retaliation from the Israeli army countered their aspirations for peaceful protest.

“We are here to pray, not to throw stones,’ commented one of the priests. Along with Bishop Younan Munib, a number of priests and bishops left the area.

Father Aktham and Greek Orthodox priest Boulos remained alongside a small crowd who gathered in front the Israeli soldiers, waving flags and looking out across the Cremisan land.

 

Alongside the remaining olive trees and rubble, the group stood under the shadow of Route 60, the infamous bypass bridge that connects the Israeli settlements - Gilo and Har Gilo - situated on either side of the Cremisan Valley.

Greek Orthodox Priest Boulos read passages from the bible as journalists and protestors stood by the Israeli Occupation Forces, who had cornered off access to swaths of the valley.

 

The sense of anger and frustration amongst the community and church members was palpable.

"Israeli terrorists!" members of the crowd chanted, alongside other protest slogans.

One Israeli officer, who appeared to be commanding the soldiers, stood in the background under the shelter of one of the remaining olive trees, issuing orders to his troops through a radio.

The crowd dispersed not long after the protest began. They were  followed by the Israeli soldiers whose guns were raised to ensure the protesters fully vacated the valley.

Previous protests have ended in violence and arrests. But today, the crowd peacefully dissipated, having had their voices heard.

 

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