x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Christian community divided by Israeli separation barrier

Israeli authorities plan to build a segment of a 760-kilometre fence through Cremisan in the West Bank, separating Palestinian-Christian landowners from a monastery and its winery.

Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Walajeh.
Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Walajeh.

CREMISAN, WEST BANK // Even though its concrete pillars and barbed wire have yet to be pieced together through these terraced olive orchards, Israel's separation barrier has already divided this small Christian community.

Israeli authorities are expected to build a segment of its 760-kilometre fence through Cremisan, an area of verdant hills wedged between occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On one side will be the largely Palestinian-Christian landowners who stand to lose access to about 3,000 dunums (300 hectacres) of ancestral farmland. On the Israeli side will be the 19th-century Cremisan monastery and the monks who run its winery. Despite repeated petitions and protests against the fence by landowners and clergymen, the foreign-born monks, who come from the Vatican's Salesian order, have remained silent. It is a decision that many here regard as driven by the bottom line, not Palestinian rights.

"They have a wine making business here, and everyone is suspicious that they want to be on the Israeli side when the wall is built so they can gain better access to Jerusalem," said Nader Abu Amsha, 50, a resident of the neighbouring town of Beit Jala, whose olive orchards near the monastery will be cut off by the barrier.

According to maps showing the barrier's current route, the monastery, its agricultural land and hundreds of dunums of private Palestinian land will fall on the Israeli side. Palestinians divided from their land would be required to ask for Israeli permits to reach it.

Villagers near Cremisan say the eight-metre-high fence will be used by Israel to expand onto their land from the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, which is located on a hill adjacent to the monastery.

At the same time, they suspect the monks have also received perks for their muted stance. Israeli authorities are building a new, private road that directly links the monastery to Jerusalem. Previously, the monks had to travel and ship their wine products into Israel through Israeli checkpoints.

The monks' new road is partly built on top of private land owned by Palestinians from the village of Walajeh.

The monastery failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Ghaith Nasser, a lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners, has filed a petition to the Israeli government contesting the barrier's route through Cremisan and the private road.

"The only justification that can be legitimate for such a road is if it's for security reasons, but that's not the case here," he said. "It's a private road for the private use of the monks that's on top of private Palestinian land."

Israel claims the barrier is needed for security purposes, but Palestinians call it a tool for grabbing land because roughly 80 per cent of its planned route falls inside territory occupied after the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

Palestinians from Cremisan's surrounding communities believe that pressure from the monks could convince Israel to reroute the fence. Israel, they say, would not want to be seen to be in conflict with the Catholic Church.

They cite the example of nuns, also Salesians, from a convent next to the monastery who successfully petitioned the Israeli authorities against the barrier's original path.

Their compound of farmland and schools would have fallen on the Israeli side of the barrier under the route first presented by Israel five years ago. After the nuns protested its path, Israel re-routed the fence so the convent's facilities would remain connected to the Palestinian villages they served. Despite repeated attempts over the last five years, however, officials from Beit Jala's municipality, clergymen and residents say they have tried and failed to get the monks' backing.

"People here know that if the monks stood with them, there's a good chance the wall wouldn't be going through the area at all," said Samia Zeit, head of Beit Jala Municipality's head of planning and zoning, whose family also owns land that will be cut off by the barrier.

She said residents and municipal officials have attempted to enlist support - to no avail - from the Vatican because it alone has the authority to pressure the Salesians on the issue.

A source in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) familiar with the issue confirmed that Mahmoud Abbas, PLO chairman and president of the Palestinian Authority, also is preparing letter to request support from the Vatican on the issue.

Despite repeated attempts, officials in the Vatican could not be reached for comment.

Ibrahim Shomali, Beit Jala's parish priest, said the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which represents Catholics in the holy land, also has made contact with the Vaticanover the Cremisan issue, though he did not have details.

Mr Shomali has organised a weekly protest Mass on the soon-to-be-confiscated land near Cremisan. Local residents, clergymen of the Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Church and the Salesian nuns have attended - but not the monks.

"When we asked them why they don't help us with this issue, they said it's because they are waiting for a decision on the issue from the Vatican," he said.

Standing on the land that he expected to lose, Mr Abu Amsha began questioning the conflicting role played by the church in his community.

"If these monks cared about us, they would help us save our land," he said.

"It's not just about X-number of dunums being confiscated. It's a matter of our national homeland being taken away, piece by piece."

hnaylor@thenational.ae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On one side will be villages largely made up of Palestinian Christian landowners who stand to lose access to 3,000 dunums (241 acres) of ancestral farmland when the fence is completed. On the Israeli side will be the 19th-century Cremisan monastery and the monks who run its popular winery. POPULAR WITH WHOM? Despite repeated petitions and protests against the barrier by landowners and clergymen, the foreign-born monks who come from the Salesian order, have remained silent. It is a decision that many here regard as driven by the bottom line, not Palestinian rights.

"They have a wine-making business here, and everyone is suspicious that they want to be on the Israeli side when the wall is built so they can gain better access to Jerusalem," said Nader Abu Amsha, 50, a resident of the neighbouring town of Beit Jala, whose olive orchards near the monastery would be cut off by the barrier.

According to maps showing the barrier's current route, the monastery, its agricultural land and more than 200 acres of private Palestinian land would fall on the Israeli side. Palestinians divided from their land would be required to ask for Israeli permits to reach it.

Villagers near Cremisan say the eight-metre-high fence would be used by Israel to expand onto their land from the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, which is located on a hill adjacent to the monastery.

At the same time, they suspect the monks have also received perks for their muted stance. Israeli authorities have been building a new, private road that directly links the monastery to Jerusalem HOW FAR AWAY. Previously, the monks had to travel and ship their wine products into Israel through Israeli checkpoints.

The monks' new road is partly built on top of private land owned by Palestinians from the village of Walajeh.

The monastery failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview. DID YOU ACTUALLY GO AND KNOCK ON THE DOOR?

Ghaith Nasser, a lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners, has filed a petition to the Israeli government contesting the barrier's route through Cremisan.

"The only justification that can be legitimate for such a road is if it's for security reasons, but that's not the case here," he said. "It's a private road for the private use of the monks that's on top of private Palestinian land."

Israel claims the barrier was needed for security purposes, but Palestinians call it a tool for grabbing land because roughly 80 per cent of its route falls inside territory occupied after the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

Palestinians from Cremisan's surrounding communities believe that pressure from the monks could convince Israel to reroute the fence. Israel, they say, would not want to be seen to be in conflict with the Catholic Church.

They cite the example of nuns, also Salesians, from a convent next to the monastery who successfully petitioned the Israeli authorities against the barrier's original path.

Their compound of farmland and schools would have fallen on the Israeli side of the barrier under the route first presented by Israel five years ago. After the nuns protested its path, Israel re-routed the fence so the convent's facilities would remain connected to the Palestinian villages they served. Despite repeated attempts over the last five years, however, officials from Beit Jala's municipality, clergymen and residents say they have tried and failed to get the monks' backing.

"People here know that if the monks stood with them, there's a good chance the wall wouldn't be going through the area at all," said Samia Zeit, head of Beit Jala Municipality's head of planning and zoning, whose family also owns land that will be cut off by the barrier.

She said residents and municipal officials have attempted to enlist support - to no avail - from the Vatican because it alone has the authority to pressure the Salesians on the issue.

A source in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) familiar with the issue confirmed that Mahmoud Abbas, PLO chairman and president of the Palestinian Authority, was preparing a letter to request support from the Vatican on the issue.

Despite repeated attempts, officials in the Vatican could not be reached for comment.

Ibrahim Shomali, Beit Jala's parish priest, said the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also has made contact with the Vatican over the Cremisan issue, though he did not have details.

Mr Shomali has organised a weekly protest Mass on the soon-to-be-confiscated land near Cremisan. Local residents, clergymen of the Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Church and the Salesian nuns have attended - but not the monks.

"When we asked them why they don't help us with this issue, they said it's because they are waiting for a decision on the issue from the Vatican," he said.

Standing on the land that he expected to lose, Mr Abu Amsha began questioning the conflicting role played by the church in his community.

"If these monks cared about us, they would help us save our land," he said.

"It's not just about X-number of dunums being confiscated, It's a matter of our national homeland being taken away, piece by piece."

 

hnaylor@thenational.ae