by EA Petra, Bethlehem team,
In 2002 , following a series of suicide attacks the Israeli military devised a plan to secure its people . A wall was built separating people from people. In 2008, the suicide attacks had ceased but construction of the Barrier, whose objective is to separate the entire West Bank from Israel, continued.
Today is 11 April 2016. I stand and watch as the bulldozers dig among olive groves and cranes slowly place concrete blocks next to each other. I stand next to Issa on the land that had once been his, now confiscated by the Israeli military to divide the Cremisan Valley from Beit Jala for security reasons. Issa’s eyes are empty and he shrugs his shoulders at the sight of what is happening in front of us. His entire olive grove is destroyed, and with it his family’s history and future. Issa is one of 58 families whose olive groves were torn up to build the Separation Barrier. In the end, the wall around Cremisan Valley will restrict between about 400 and 500 families from accessing their land. With the wall slowly being built in front of us, I ask Issa whether he still has hope:
“There’s always hope. The Berlin Wall fell, and even this wall will fall.”
When completed, the Separation Barrier will be around 706 km long. The Green Line, which is the internationally recognized border between West Bank and Israel since 1967, is only 328 km long. According to UN calculations, about 85% of the Barrier route is in the West Bank itself, not along the Green Line. Thus the Barrier places 9.4% of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the Barrier. In addition the route of the wall is planned so that 71 of the 150 settlements (2011) would also end up on the “Israeli” side of the Barrier . The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 2004 advisory opinion stated that even though Israel has the right to protect its people, the Separation Barrier is against international law. Not only is the route of the Barrier illegal but it could even be tantamount to annexation of land [ 2].
The Separation Barrier in Bethlehem is about 2km east of Green Line and was completed in 2005 . In 2006, the Military proposed extending the Barrier through the Cremisan Valley, separating it from Beit Jala. It would take approximately 300 hectares from Bethlehem and end up on the Israeli side. In addition to the affected families, a Catholic Monastery would be separated from a Convent and school, preventing children of access to the school. The plan received widespread international attention and ended up in court. It was the Monastery, Convent and 58 Palestinian families against the state of Israel . After years of lawsuits the Israeli Civil Court ruled in favour of the Monastery, Convent and the Palestinian families in April 2015. The wall needed to take a different route in order not to affect them..
However, in July the Israeli court overruled it’s decision, claiming that the Israeli Ministry of Defense could continue the construction of the barrier in the Cremisan on the privately owned land. The Monastery and Convent should however not be separated . In this way more international pressure was avoided. On the 19th of August, the Israeli military began, without warning, to uproot the thousand year old olive trees in Cremisan Valley.
Even though the families in Beit Jala have appealed and no final ruling has been given, it has been less than a week since the construction of the wall itself began. Issa believes that at the current rate construction will be completed within two weeks. Despite years of struggle, the Separation Barrier will soon be finished here and the prospects for Issa, who hoped to build a future in this place, are vanishing. As we stand there, watching the beautiful valley disappear behind the concrete blocks, we ask Issa what we can do to support him and the affected families:
“Go home, tell them what you’ve seen and tell them about us.”
Issa, I am telling your story.
Please support the residents of Beit Jala’s call for action to prevent the construction of the Separation Wall through the Cremisan Valley. The construction of the wall on occupied land is a breach of international law. The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ), 2004 Advisory Opinion, called for the Wall to be dismantled and labelled it illegal due to the overwhelming economic and social problems it caused for Palestinians. (Para.142).
Write to your Church leaders to ensure they are aware that construction of the Separation Barrier in the Cremisan valley is almost complete, and urge them to speak out.
Write to your elected representatives as well as your countries’ ambassadors to Israel asking them to put pressure on the government of Israel to:
- immediately stop the construction of the Separation Barrier through the Cremisan Valley,
- dismantle the sections of the Barrier already constructed on all occupied territory, and
- replant the uprooted olive trees and compensate farmers who have lost their trees.
Find out more from the Israeli NGO B’Tselem about how the planned route of the barrier through the Cremisan Valley is a manifestation of the Government of Israel’s policy of settlement expansion.
Society of St Yves, New Report: “The Last Nail in Bethlehem’s Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan”
EA blog: Q & A: What’s at stake in Cremisan?
EA Blog: Voices rise above the wall