Uprooted lives: Christians protest the construction of the wall in the Cremisan

By the Bethlehem team.

On August 17 Israeli soldiers and security personnel supervised the the bulldozing of land and the uprooting of over 100 ancient olive trees in the Bir Ouma. Many of the trees that were uprooted were as old as 1500 years old. The land is being cleared to facilitate the routing of the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. The planned route for the wall is three kilometers inside the 1949 Armistice ‘green line’ and is set to be built on privately owned Palestinian land in Beit Jala.The clearing of the land is taking place despite a previous court ruling and without any warning being given to the local landowners. Local Christians have been gathering daily at the site of the bulldozing to protest the illegal confiscation of their land and to pray for the protection of the Cremisan Valley.

Bir Ouna is located in Beit Jala, a predominately Christian town in the Bethlehem Governorate, just 10 km south of Jerusalem. The Valley is also home to two Salesian monasteries and a convent school that service the local Christian community.  If the wall route goes ahead as planned it will separate 58 Christian families from their land in the Cremisan valley.

The town of Beit Jala is known for it refined olive oil and now the community has lost more than half its olive trees to the building of the wall. The loss of this essential source of livelihood could have a devastating economic impact on this community.

17.08.15. Beit Jala Wadi Ahmad Landowner distraught the uprooted olive trees. Photo EAPPI / T. Finstad

17.08.15. Beit Jala Wadi Ahmad Landowner distraught the uprooted olive trees. Photo EAPPI / T. Finstad

Since Tuesday 18 August, the community of Beit Jala has been organizing daily prayers to protest this illegal confiscation of their land and pray for the protection of their olive trees and their land. Churches from across the world have now united with this community in prayer.

18.08.2015. Bethlehem. Bir Ouna. speach of the priest on the land of uprooted olive trees. Photo EAPPI / K. Kozlak

18.08.2015. Beit Jala. Bir Ouna. Priest offers prayers for the protection of the land.  Photo EAPPI / K. Kozlak

19.18.2015. Beit Jala, Beit Ouna, Open Air mass during olive tree uprooting. Photo EAPPI / O. Dukic (2)

19.18.2015. Beit Jala, Beit Ouna, Open Air mass during olive tree uprooting. Photo EAPPI / O. Dukic (2)

 

Since August 18, EAs have joined the community in their daily prayer for the protection of the olive trees and the land.The prayer was led by Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests from the Cremisan monastery whose land will be affected by the expansion of the separation barrier. We observed that during the mass, Israeli soldiers and security personnel continued to supervise the destruction of this ancient olive grove.

21.08.2015 Beit Jala, Beit Ouna prayer in area Phpto EAPPI / O. Dukic

21.08.2015 Beit Jala, Beit Ouna prayer in area Phpto EAPPI / O. Dukic

On August 19, the mass was unable to take place within the olive grove as Israeli soldiers prohibited access to the land. They said that it was a ‘working area’ and that the mass was ‘an illegal gathering’ as no permission had been granted.

19.08.2015 priest negotiate with soldiers Beit Ouna EAPPI EOD

19.08.2015 Beit Jala, Cremisan Valley priest negotiate with soldiers over bulldosing of land. Photo EAPPI / E. O Driscol

As locals continued to be denied access to their land and saw more and more of their trees being destroyed, tensions began to rise. Soldiers eventually rushed the crowd, resulting in a number of injuries. Over the course of the morning, two Palestinian men were detained.

19.18.2015 Beit Jala, Beit Ouna, Palestinian man arrested for trying to plant an olive sapling Photo / EAPPI O. Dukic

19.18.2015 Beit Jala, Beit Ouna, Palestinian man arrested for trying to plant an olive sapling Photo / EAPPI O. Dukic

EAs witness similar scenes at the prayer on Tuesday morning. Locals, many of whom own the confiscated land, lay on the ground to prevent the bulldozers from accessing the area. They were forcibly removed by Israeli security personnel.

17.08.15 Beir Ouna soldiers remove land owners and locals as bulldozer is approaching Photo EAPPI / Tone

17.08.15 Beir Ouna soldiers remove land owners and locals as bulldozer path. Photo EAPPI / T. Finstad

Locals told EAs that the Israeli soldiers said to them that the trees were to be moved and replanted. However, the trees’ roots and limbs were cut when they were uprooted. These ancient trees, a source of income for so many locals, have been destroyed. A local asked the soldiers:

19.18.2015 Beit Ouna Olive uprooting EAPPI E ODriscoll

19.18.2015 Beit Jala, Beit Ouna Olive tree uprooting. Photo EAPPI / E. O Driscoll

“If he wants to move the trees he needs to keep the roots. Why can’t he keep the roots if he is interested in them?”

 

 

 

17.08.15 Beit Jala. Wadi Ahmad, Palestinian land owner prevented from entering his olive groves by Israeli officer Photo EAPPI / Kozlak

17.08.15 Beit Jala. Wadi Ahmad, Palestinian land owner prevented from entering his olive groves by Israeli officer Photo EAPPI /K. Kozlak

Significantly, the Cremisan Valley is bordered by the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. Built on Beit Jala land, these illegal settlements are among the fastest growing Israeli settlements. If the planned wall route goes ahead it will enable the joining of these two settlements thereby disconnecting occupied East Jerusalem from Bethlehem. A move which would effectively separate the northern West Bank from its South.

17.08.2015. Bethlehem.Wadi Ahmad. uprooted olive trees. EAPPI. K. Kozlak

17.08.2015. Bethlehem. Wadi Ahmad. Uprooted olive trees. Photo EAPPI / K. Kozlak

19.08.15 Bir Ouna International press. Photo EAPPI / E. O' Driscol

19.08.15 Beit Jala, Bir Ouna International press reporting on the uprooting of olive trees. Photo EAPPI / E. O’ Driscol

The local community has long struggled against the building of the wall on their land. When the Israeli courts ruled on 2 April, that the wall should be rerouted to lessen the effects on local communities and the monasteries, many were hopeful. But the Israeli Defense Ministry has effectively ignored this ruling and now this ancient olive grove lies in ruin.

18.08.2015. Bethlehem. Bir Ouna. Uprooted land. EAPPI. K. Kozlak

18.08.2015. Beit Jala. Bir Ouna. Remains of ancient olive grove. Photo EAPPI / K. Kozlak

Please support the residents of Beit Jala’s call for prayer and action to prevent the building of the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. Click on the box below to learn what you can do.

Take action box 2More information:

Haaretz: Israel Builds West Bank Separation Barrier Despite Court Ruling

The Guardian: Israel resumes work on the controversial separation wall in Cremisan Valley

Society of St Yves: Statement by St. Yves on Building the Annexation Wall in Cremisan

Statement: Latin Patriarchate condemns resumption of separation wall construction

Watch: World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel 2015 #WallWillFall

 

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