Monday, September 25, 2017

Salesian community wages war against Israelís Apartheid Wall


By Jessica Purkiss - February 27, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Apartheid Wall] [Salesian community] [Beit Jala] [Walajeh] [Cremisan Valley]

Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

The small town of Beit Jala on the outskirts of Bethlehem is home to the only vineyard in the West Bank.  The vineyard is run by Roman Catholic monks belonging to the Salesian order. 

For over 150 years the monks have been growing grapes to make the West Banks 'Cremisan’ wine, surviving off the costs they earn from the sale of the wines. Around the vineyard the community of Salesian monks and nuns has flourished. The slopes of Walajeh, the Palestinian village where the Cremisan Valley lies is home to the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan’s convent, the Salesian monastery, a school, 58 families and the Cremisan Cellars.

The Salesian sisters of Cremisan have run the school since it was built in 1960. Today the school educates around 400 children, mostly from the nearby town of Beit Jala. 

But the sloping verdant Cremisan vineyards of Carpesian Valley and the peaceful lives that the Salesian community lead is likely to be destroyed forever if the court appeal against the building of the Apartheid Wall through the valley’s land is unsuccessful.

In 2006, the nuns were first informed that the Apartheid Wall’s planned route would dissect the Valley’s land. After objections to the separation of the sisters from the West Bank the Israeli Ministry of Defence proposed that the convent remain on the West Bank side of the Wall whilst the monastery will be moved to the Israeli side. This will divide the 150 year old Salesian community.  

The final court hearing in the Special Appeals Committee against the Wall for the Cremisan Valley case took place on Tuesday, February 12th. Following this hearing, the court adjourned to consider all the documentation and testimonies put forth in the case that has lasted 7 years.

The issue is that the Cremisan Valley is situated between two illegal Israel settlements; Har Gilo and Gilo. They house a combined total of 35,500 Jewish settlers. The case’s attorney argues that Israel’s desire to connect the two settlements lies behind the plans to build the Apartheid Wall, not the security concerns currently being used to justify the move.

With the addition of the Apartheid Wall, the total loss of land in Beit Jala will be 6674 dunums, which is 47% of the total land in the town.


Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

The differing voices of the community

The battle against the Wall has already created divisions even from within the Salesian community. Originally the monks were not opposed to being on the Israeli side of the Wall due to the economic opportunities that would open up from the sale of the wine to Israeli markets.

However the nuns who did not want to be separated from the children their school provides education to strongly opposed the notion of being placed on the Israeli side and made their disagreement with the monks public.

Originally the monks were not opposed to being on the Israeli side of the Wall due to the economic opportunities that would open up from the sale of the wine to Israeli markets

“The monks make wine, and for them it’s great. They’re interested in producing wine and this enables them to send it to Israel, where their customers are located,” said the Mother Superior, Sister Adriana.

“For us it’s not good at all. If the fence passes here and they put us on the Israeli side, the children won’t be able to reach us. There’s only one road to the monastery. The fence will create a checkpoint here with soldiers.”

“We and the monks have very different opinions regarding the fence here,” said Mother Adriana to Haaretz

To quell the disagreement the Monastery administration commented, “The monastery never asked to move over to the Israeli side.”

After much pressure from the Catholic hierarchy the monks joined the case against the Wall. The sisters and the monks issued a joint statement in 2012 saying "there is no discord among them whatsoever and that their positions with regard to building the 'wall' do not differ."

 

The Cremisan Valley case in the context of international law

The building of the Wall violates a number of human rights. Firstly it must be remembered that the route of the Apartheid Wall was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. This illegality can be applied to numerous places in which the Wall goes beyond the Green Line. B’Tselem claims that if completed as planned, 85% of the barrier will fall in the West Bank, and 9.4% of the land in the West Bank will be isolated between the Wall and the Green Line. The settlements that surround the Valley that may be the reason for the construction of the illegal Wall are also deemed illegal under international law. 

Specifically in the case of the Cremisan Valley the separation of the school from the children who attend it infringes the children’s right to education.  If the school is placed on the Israeli side it would militarize the children’s route to school, as they would have to pass through a checkpoint just to reach their lessons. 

The Convention for the Economic and Social Rights ensures the protection for minority communities; as Israel is a signatory to this convention it remains Israel’s duty under international law to adhere to this. The planned route of the Apartheid Wall runs the risk of destroying the Christian minority Salesian community, physically and economically.  

Alongside these infringements on international recognized rights, environmental expert Professor Judi Green’s report on the historical, environmental and agricultural importance of the land was submitted during the case. It demonstrated the negative effects the wall would have from an environmental perspective. 


Father Ibrahim Shomali celebratig a "protest mass" in the Cremisan valley. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

Beit Jala brought to international scope

Aside from the internal voices of the Salesian community, the case of the Cremisan Valley has bought the small, peaceful village in Beit Jala into the forefront of a global debate.

The Archbishop of Westminster, England's most senior Catholic, joined the battle against the Wall after a visit to Beit Jala in November of 2011. He offered prayers including to help village with their "legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel."

William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Minister, sent a letter to the Archbishop expressing his shared concerns over the after of the community.

In addition to Hague's personal intervention, the British consulate in East Jerusalem is supporting the community and the Department for International Development (Dfid) provided indirect funding for the legal challenge.

Father Ibrahim Shomali, Beit Jala’s parish priest said, “When people suffer, the Church must be near them. This is not politics. This is human rights and this is Christians who must be defended.” 

It seems the small Christian community of Beit Jala has awakened the international community to issues facing so many in Palestine today. The case has gained wide coverage on both local and international news bringing the violation of Palestinian rights to the global public. Hopefully the international support for the Cremisan Valley case will extend beyond the Christian community and encourage people to look at Israel’s policies of land confiscation across the whole of the West Bank.




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