A Catholic heritage community is next on the occupation’s chopping block

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cremisan service
Outdoor service conducted by the Salesian convent in the Cremisan Valley, a Palestinian hamlet ordered to be carved up with the separation wall  by an Israeli court. (Photo: Catholic Philly)

Alcohol drinkers in the West Bank know the Cremisan Valley as the agricultural lands where sacramental wine, as well as Merlot, Chardonnay, Vermouth and Brandy are produced by nuns and monks. Since the late 1800s when the Salesian order established a monastery southwest of Jerusalem, this hidden gem of land has served the Palestinian Christian community for business, education and religion.

But last week an Israel court ruled on the route of the expanding separation wall, and it will now chop up the Cremisan Valley like so many other localities caught between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The court’s findings come after seven years of litigation to change the route of the wall. The barrier will now “surround the Salesian Nuns Convent and Primary School from three sides and will confiscate most of the convent’s lands,” said the Society for St. Yves, a Catholic legal rights group that represented the Cremisan community, in a press release on Friday.

Originally the wall’s planned route would have barricaded the school from the city of Beit Jala, a historically Christian city adjacent to Bethlehem. But St. Yves was successful in partially re-directing the path of the wall. From the press release by the organization:

The Society of St. Yves was initially successful in changing the primary course of the wall, by which the Convent and the School will remain on the Palestinian side of the wall. Still the Society of St. Yves sees the verdict as highly problematic and unjust as it doesn’t even discuss the violation of freedom of religion, the right to education as well as the economical damage caused for a unique Christian minority in Beit Jala by the construction of the wall.

The Guardian‘s Harriet Sherwood also reports the route of the wall will usurp most of the monastery ‘s land as well as agricultural fields from 50 families:

The route of the barrier will separate a small community of elderly nuns at the Cremisan convent from 75% of their land and from a nearby monastery with which it has close ties. The playground of a nursery and a school run by the Cremisan sisters will be bordered on three sides by the wall.

More than 50 Palestinian families will lose free access to their agricultural land, causing economic hardship to the dwindling Christian community.

In particular Cremisan Cellars is caught between the Green line, “with the main building officially in Jerusalem and the storeroom on the other side of the parking lot in the West Bank. The long winding road to the monastery is just past one of the coordinating offices between Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy [Authority],” says the vineyard’s website.

Although to the outside world Cremisan is a little-heard-of agricultural and religious hamlet, it is situated in between regions of heightened settlement expansion. To the west of the valley is Har Gilo where hundreds of Israeli settlers live on territory expropriated from the Palestinian towns of Beit Jala and al-Walajah. To the east is Gilo, a Levittown-on-the-Holy Land, home to some 40,000 settlers. Together Gilo and Har Gilo form the nexus of the Gush Etzion and East Jerusalem settlement blocs. Connecting them while carving up the surrounding Palestinian villages schematically reinforces a “Greater Jerusalem” into the West Bank.

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