Friday, November 24, 2017

Bethlehem province bulks up measures of resistance against Israel‘s separation wall


By Mona Martin - March 14, 2015
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Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
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Leading figures from the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour paid a visit to the pope last month, to update the Vatican on the current status of their fight against Israel's plan to annex a large swath of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area by building a further section of the separation wall. The goal was to raise international awareness on the issue and gain support in order to put pressure on Israel to cease its construction plans.

The story goes back to 2006 when Israel's Ministry of Defense issued a revised section of plans for the wall that, when completed, would effectively annex the Palestinian area of Cremisan Valley of Bethlehem province into Israel. Situated in the Cremisan Valley is the Salesian Sisters Convent and the Convent of the Don Bosco Brothers. The nuns run a school for young children, and the monks manage a winery famous for high-quality wines. While most of the land currently set to be annexed into Israeli territory belongs to the convents, private Palestinian farmland is also under threat of appropriation.

Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem Issam Juha told the Palestine Monitor that the Cremisan Valley “forms about 50% of the municipal borders of Beit Jala, so we are talking about a large area that Israel is trying to annex to Jerusalem. This would leave Bethlehem area without any green area. In addition to that, we will lose (…) the winery, which creates jobs (...) and creates a source for selling grapes.” The annexation of the Don Bosco winery to Israel would mean losing a major buyer of grapes produced and sold by local Palestinian farmers. The flow of goods between Palestinian farmers and the wine factory would be prevented by the wall.

In addition to the issue of the winery and the negative economic implications for the area if it were to be lost, there would be fatal consequences for the convent's school, run by the Salesian Sisters. The Society of St. Yves, the Catholic Center for Human Rights, states on its website that the building of the wall according to current plans would mean the end of the school and thus the end of the education of 400 children, mostly from needy families. The children (Muslim and Christian) would be deprived of their right to education, as their parents wouldn’t be able to send them anywhere else.

The joint appeal by landowners and the Salesian Sisters to the Israeli Supreme Court called on the Ministry of Defense to reconsider its plans. The Court thus requested the Ministry to develop an alternative itinerary for the wall. This alternative was rejected by all Palestinian parties fighting against the wall. According to Deputy Mayor Issam Juha, “We were surprised by the new proposal they offered, in which they separate the winery from the convent and put two gates, one going to the Israeli territories and the other going to Beit Jala. And the people, who control the two gates should be the priests living in the convent.” Issam Juha smiled in view of the proposal's absurdity of putting the priests “in charge of controlling the border between the two sides.”

Dalia Qumsieh, Head of Advocacy of the Society of St. Yves, told the Palestine Monitor, “We have been waiting for the Supreme Court’s reaction. The last hearing was in November 2014. As far as I know there are no additional hearings scheduled.” 

Until the Supreme Court reacts, this means “business as usual for the school,” the winery and the landowners. Business as usual, but with swords of Damocles hanging over their heads. 

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