Saturday, October 24, 2020

Israel rejects Palestinian petition to redirect Wall in Cremisan valley

By Fatima Masri - May 29, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Battir] [Beit Jala hospital] [Cremisan Valley] [UNESCO World Heritage Site] [the Wall]

Photos by Eugene Peress.


The Israeli Special Objection Court rejected the latest petition from Palestinian landowners in the town of Beit Jala to redirect the wall that intends to cut off the Cremisan Valley—located in the Bethlehem district—from the surrounding villages of the Jerusalem area. The ruling, rendered official on 26 April 2013, allows for the continuation of the wall’s construction as planned according to the two military orders issued in 2011 stating Israel’s right to confiscate 37.3 dunams and 15.2 dunams of Cremisan land respectively. 

Confiscation of land in the Cremisan Valley falls into the plan —announced by the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem in 2004 —of building the settlement of Giv’at Yael to fill in the gap between the southern part of Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement block, southwest of Bethlehem, seizing a total of 4,111 dunams of land from the towns of Beit Jala, Battir and al-Walaja. The result will be the creation of a Segregation Zone that disrupts the territorial contiguity of the nearby Palestinian villages and confines their inhabitants into small fractured enclaves.
Severing ties in Al-Walaja
An iron gate has been built on May 8 on al-Walaja’s main road, effectively blocking access to the town. The checkpoint at the entrance of the village undermines freedom of movement and access to education and medical care for all of the village’s 2,000 plus residents.
The Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel objected to the barrier in the area of al-Walaja, claiming that construction of the wall will destroy the terrace-cultivation, which has existed for more than 1,500 years.
The community itself will also be affected by the completion of the barrier. This is the case for Abed Abed Rabbo, of Dehaisha refugee camp, whose property will fall under Israeli jurisdiction once the wall is finished. His house is carved in the walls of a cave and fully covered with newspapers articles on his case and pictures of his brother, jailed thirty years ago.  
The place is a meeting point where friends and neighbours speak about politics and future plans while enjoying the cool breeze on the porch. This will no longer be possible once the Segregation Zone is completed, as neither friends nor relatives will be allowed to access the area. Abed has been granted a residency permit allowing him to continue living on the property, but his new neighbours will be Israeli settlers. No force has been used against him, in the hope that he will himself decide to move to a more friendly area. However, Abed swears that he will never leave, saying, “For Palestinians, land is not a place where you live in, but a part of our own identity”. 
Battir’s waning hopes for UNESCO recognition
UNESCO’s recognition of Battir as a World Heritage site could be the only viable way to put an end to Israeli construction plans in the area. Yet the application, previously scheduled for June, is now on hold.  In the UNESCO lexicon, Battir is a transboundary site, as its land falls partly in Israel and partly in the West Bank. Israel issued two major orders of land confiscation in 1981 and in 1983, seizing  900-1,000 dunams of land from the total 12,000 dunam area. If accomplished, the plan for the new wall would annex an other 2,000 dunams of Battir’s land. Submitting a request to UNESCO necessitates clear definition of the relevant territories and borders; in the case of Battir, the disagreement on where the line should be drawn is leaving the situation in a legal deadlock. Palestinians have two uneasy options. They may either choose to include the land annexed by Israel in their Wolrd Heritage site application, which would most likely cause a legal dispute transcending UNESCO competence and would probably end in the dismissal of the Palestinian request, or they could comply with the borders drawn by Israel and subsequently diminish any possibilities of future Palestinian claims to the land. 
While the villagers of Battir weigh their decision and its potential outcomes, Michal Nasser, of the Battir Landscape Ecomuseum, recently announced the accomplishment of another project, the first guesthouse in Battir. “Its main aim is to share our beautiful landscape with people from all over the world but then of course, it will help raise awareness of what is happening under the occupation.”As recognition from UNESCO seems unachievable in the near future, raising awareness is deemed as the only tool of opposition against the Israeli plan in the area. 
The Israeli government claims the wall will secure a railway located right in the heart of the town. However, Israel’s move to create a wall in the area comes in direct contradiction to the Rhodes Agreements of 1949, which grant Palestinians in the area access to the farmland falling beyond the railway trails, provided no damage to the railway is attempted. The inhabitants of Battir have kept their side of the agreement, however they will be dispossessed of their lands and source of income if the UNESCO recognition falls through. The Israeli government proposed to create an agricultural gate to provide access to cultivated lands, but local farmers fear Israeli soldiers will not completely comply with the measure.
The terraced agriculture land, based on an irrigation system dating back to the Roman period will be irremediably damaged during the construction of the wall, causing a disastrous environmental impact, Michael Nasser explains. 
The wall will also separate the monastery of the Salesian Order in al-Walaja from the convent in Battir, where nuns run a school for Palestinian children. Once the barrier is complete, they will have to face a one-and-a-half hour journey instead of the usual twenty minutes to reach the school. The militarization of the area and the increased possibility of clashes will most likely further encourage students to drop out from school.
Legal implications of the wall
The wall sharply deviates from the Green Line, the demarcation line separating Israel and the territories captured in the Six-Day war of 1967. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, 85 percent of the wall’s route falls outside the Green Line and is illegal according to a landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
The Israeli government adduces security reasons for the construction of the wall, despite the fact that no incidents have occurred since 2002. Most of the one-hundred-plus petitions filed to the High Court of Justice and the Special Appeals Committee have been rejected citing the Emergency Land Requisition Law, which allows for Israel’s confiscation of private land for public security reasons. 

Israel's dismissal of the latest attempt to reroute the wall proves, once again, its disregard for the basic right to nationality and self-determination enshrined within international human rights law, as well as the lack of available legal remedies for Palestinians in the face of continuous violations of their most fundamental rights. 

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