By EA Tone, Bethlehem team,
On the 17th of August this year the Israeli authorities began clearing ancient olive groves from privately owned Palestinian land, in preparation for the construction of the separation barrier in through the Cremisan valley in Bethlehem. The confiscation of private land and the barrier route continues without the consent of the, predominantly Christian, residents of Beit Jala. Bethlehem EA Tone who is now back in Norway, interviewed Dalia Qumsieh the head of the advocacy department at the Society of St. Yves, to understand what is at stake in the Cremisan valley.
1.) Tone: What is at stake in Cremisan?
Dalia: The Israeli government must be asked to refrain from taking part in the persecution of Palestinian Christians by depriving them of their lands, which might eventually force them to leave, voiding the area from its Christian population.
2) Tone: What happened in Beir Onah, (Beit Jala) on 17 August 2015 – and what has happened there since?
Dalia: On August 17, Israeli forces arrived unannounced to Beir Onah, accompanied by heavy machinery and started uprooting the olive trees in an ancient grove and bulldozing the agricultural lands in the area in preparation for building the annexation wall . Work on the lands continues today.
Tone: What is at stake in the Cremisan Valley – after the Israeli Supreme Court decision in July this year?
Dalia: The ability of 58 Palestinian Christian families to access their lands, which are their only source of livelihood, is at stake. As well as the isolation of 3500 dunums  of Beit Jala lands. Their lands will be confiscated to accommodate the snaking route of the wall – which might cause them to eventually immigrate.
Tone: Why did your organization publish the report “The Last Nail in Bethlehem’s Coffin“. What is meant by the title?
Dalia: Since the Cremisan case is very high profile case and has attracted much international attention, St. Yves aimed to shed light on the grave violation of building the annexation wall in Cremisan and its destructive effect on the Palestinian Christian families living in the area. The title comes from the fact that Israel, with its annexation and expansion policies, has completely surrounded Bethlehem with settlements. Cremisan is the last green area left for the residents of Bethlehem and they are about to be deprived of it.
Tone: In what manner is the case of Beir Onah reflective of the Israel’s occupation of Palestine?
Dalia: The case of Cremisan reflects the Israeli annexation policies, which aim at annexing Palestinian lands, without the people. It also reflects the Israeli settlement expansion and linkage policies, which in the Cremisan case seek to link the settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo under the pretext of security.
Tone: Why was the first Israeli Supreme Court decision from April 2015 seen as positive for the monasteries?
Dalia: Because it granted both religious orders their demands of being connected to their communities, and to each other as well as being able to access their lands. However, it was seen as only partially positive because the landowners are the continuity of the Church and the Church cannot accept them losing their lands.
Tone: In what terms is this particular case affecting the conditions of the Christian communities in Bethlehem governorate?
Dalia: By confiscating their lands and depriving them from their main source of income, Israel is contributing directly in forcing them to immigrate and seek their livelihoods elsewhere, which amounts to an ethnic cleansing.
Tone: What will happen to Beir Onah now?
Dalia: [...]* Most probably an arrangement will be proposed. However, the nature of the arrangement is unknown and cannot be speculated at this point, but previous experience with settlements that include gates are negative and end up with Palestinians eventually losing their lands.
Tone: Last, but not least: Why should we care about Cremisan – and what can we do?
Dalia:The Cremisan case represents the voice of Palestinian Christian suffering under Israeli occupation, and living the consequences of the colonial settlement expansion and the construction of the annexation wall, in a flagrant violation of international law and despite the multiple international calls and alerts. Just like all Palestinians living under the oppression of the Israeli occupation, their most basic rights will be violated due to the construction of the annexation wall. At this critical stage of the case, the legal recourse has almost been consumed and we are only left with the lobbying option. It is highly recommended that you call on your governments to establish direct contact with the Israeli government and ask it to immediately refrain from building the annexation wall in Cremisan and elsewhere in Palestine, abiding by the International Court of Justice advisory opinion (2004) and by the rules of international law. Moreover, in a time when the world is concerned about the Christian presence in the region, the Israeli government must be asked to refrain from taking part in the persecution of Palestinian Christians by depriving them from their lands, which might eventually force them to leave, voiding the area from its Christian population.
 The term “annexation wall” is controversial and does not reflect the position of the WCC. EAPPI uses the term ‘the wall‘, ‘the barrier‘ or the ‘separation barrier‘ to refer to the wall built by the Israeli government in the West Bank or along the 1949 Armistice Line “Green Line”.
 A dunam, also known as a donum or dunum and as the old, Turkish, or Ottoman stremma, was the Ottoman unit of area equivalent to the Greek stremma or English acre, representing the amount of land that could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day. The legal definition was “forty standard paces in length and breadth“, but its actual area varied considerably from place to place, from a little more than 900 m² in Palestine to around 2500 m² in Iraq.
 Referring to Israeli policies as “ethnic cleansing” is controversial and does not reflect the position of the WCC. This usage of the term has been propagated by Israeli historian and socialist activist Ilan Pappé, a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
Society of St Yves, New Report: “The Last Nail in Bethlehem’s Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan”
EAPPI blog: Uprooted lives: Christians protest the construction of the wall in the Cremisan
B’Tselem : Barrier to separate Beit Jala residents from their lands, laying groundwork for annexing settlements
Society of St Yves: US Governmental and Diplomatic delegation visits Cremisan and Beir Onah
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