Court in Is­rael stops West Bank bar­rier from split­ting monastery


Is­rael’s High Court is­sued an or­der Thurs­day pre­vent­ing a Ro­man Catholic monastery, con­vent and ad­ja­cent vine­yards from be­ing di­vided by the gov­ern­ment’s West Bank sep­a­ra­tion bar­rier.

Af­ter a nine-year legal battle, the court over­ruled a plan that would have di­vided the Cremisan monastery, near Beth­le­hem, from the neigh­bor­ing con­vent.

It would have also sep­a­rated Pales­tini­ans in the nearby Chris­tian vil­lage of Beit Jala from their olive groves.

It re­jected a route cho­sen by the De­fense Min­istry, call­ing for one that causes less up­heaval to lo­cal peo­ple, the Sale­sian monks and nuns and their vine­yards.

“The re­spon­dents should re­ex­am­ine, as swiftly as pos­si­ble, var­i­ous al­ter­na­tives to the route of the sep­a­ra­tion fence,” the court rul­ing said.

The Cremisan Val­ley lies be­tween the sprawl­ing set­tle­ment of Gilo in an­nexed east Jerusalem, and the smaller West Bank set­tle­ment of Har Gilo.

In Beit Jala, about three kilo­me­ters (two miles) southeast of the church com­plex, the top Catholic cleric in the Holy Land wel­comed the rul­ing at a news con­fer­ence.

“It is a victory for the whole world, not only the church,” Latin Pa­tri­arch Fouad Twal said, adding that the de­ci­sion fol­lowed in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Is­rael.

Other op­po­nents of the Is­raeli plan said that a Pales­tinian del­e­ga­tion had raised the is­sue with Pope Fran­cis dur­ing an au­di­ence in Rome and that he then men­tioned it at a meet­ing with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu when he vis­ited Jerusalem in May 2014.

At the time, Pope France also vis­ited Beth­le­hem, the birth­place of Je­sus, and prayed at a sec­tion of the bar­rier not far from Cremisan, his brow pressed against the graf­fiti-cov­ered wall.

Twal com­mented on the tim­ing of Thurs­day’s court de­ci­sion.

“We are on the eve of Good Fri­day, a day of sor­row but also as­so­ci­ated with the Res­ur­rec­tion,” he said.

Land Grab

Is­rael be­gan build­ing the bar­rier of walls and fences in­side the oc­cu­pied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the sec­ond Pales­tinian in­tifada (up­ris­ing), say­ing it was cru­cial for se­cu­rity.

The Pales­tini­ans see it as a land grab aimed at steal­ing part of their fu­ture state.

“In prac­ti­cal terms, the de­ci­sion means that the sep­a­ra­tion wall will not be built as planned for by the Is­raeli army,” said the So­ci­ety of St Yves, speak­ing for the Sale­sian con­vent.

“The planned route was de­signed to con­fis­cate a huge share of the pri­vately owned lands of the peo­ple of Beit Jala in Cremisan as well as Vat­i­can church land,” it said.

It added that the mil­i­tary will have to is­sue a new or­der for any fu­ture plans to build the wall in the area, and that the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion can sub­mit a new ap­peal.

It is the sec­ond blow this year to the bar­rier, which has come to sym­bol­ize the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

In Jan­uary, the High Court an­nounced that the de­fense min­istry had dropped a plan to run the bar­rier through the Pales­tinian vil­lage of Bat­tir.

The vil­lage, known for its an­cient Ro­man ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem and agri­cul­tural ter­races that are still cul­ti­vated to­day, was granted UNESCO en­dan­gered World Her­itage sta­tus last June.

U.N. fig­ures show that Is­rael has al­ready built around twothirds of the bar­rier.

The net­work of tow­er­ing con­crete walls, barbed-wire fences, trenches and closed mil­i­tary roads will ex­tend 712 kilo­me­ters ( 442 miles) when com­pleted, sep­a­rat­ing the West Bank from Is­rael.

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