As Israel ramps up its hasbara (Hebrew for p.r.) on an alleged “Christian awakening” and pretends to be “the protector of Christian minorities,” in a few days the state is hoping to seize a huge swath of lush green land in the Cremisan Valley north of Beit Jala and annex it to the settlement of Har Gilo, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. If all goes as planned, the legendary Cremisan Monastery, winery and vineyard will be severed from its convent by the apartheid wall.
Last April the Tel Aviv Magistrates court rejected a petition by 58 Palestinian landowners and representatives of the monastery to reroute the wall, on the grounds of “security.” On January 29, Israel’s high court will issue its final ruling on an appeal over the seizure of more Palestinian-owned land. Folks hope that the ruling will go the occupied landowners’ way, but the state is poised to steal the land.
For years “this hidden gem of land has served the Palestinian Christian community for business, education and religion,” writes Allison Deger in last spring’s A Catholic heritage community is next on the occupation’s chopping block. And on Friday the last weekly mass was held in Beit Jala as residents waited for Israel’s supreme court to rule.
Charlie Hoyle reporting for Ma’an writes there’s little faith in the community that justice will prevail: “People do not trust the Israeli courts. They just have hope in God to change the mentality of Israel’s army and political leaders,” Rev. [William] Shomali told Ma’an.”
“The pope is coming as a peace pilgrimage to the Holy Land to build bridges and here we are seeing that a wall is being erected.” “This is a way of exodus. This is a way of pushing people out and there is no legitimate grounds for this confiscation by the Israelis, so we hope that the power of logic will prevail and not the logic of power.” Israel is constructing some of the last segments of its wall on lands west of Bethlehem, including the Cremisan monastery area, and al-Walaja village.
…After a seven-year legal battle, 58 local landowners, and nuns from the Salesian convent who joined their legal action, lost an appeal against the route of the separation wall in April 2013. The ruling last year proposed that the convent, and adjacent school, remain on the Palestinian side of the wall, but the nuns would lose access to 75 percent of their land and the school would be situated in a military zone surrounded by the separation wall. The Cremisan monastery and winery would be on the Israeli side on the wall, splitting the religious community, and residents would no longer be able to participate in the annual religious event of the Holy Spirit Procession, which sees local Christians walk from Cremisan to the Annunciation church in Beit Jala.
….Grace Abu Mohor, a teacher in Beit Jala who is set to lose 20 dunams of land and hundreds of olive trees, says Israel is seeking to annex the land in order to expand nearby settlements. “Our hope is just in God. I don’t think we have any hope with the Israelis. We look for peace but they don’t know what the word peace means.”
Abu Mohor says the seizure of family land which dates back generations will force Christians out of Beit Jala. “I think this is what they want, but we are staying here until God takes our life.”
As Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar makes clear, “the treatment of Palestinian Christians is particularly crucial to Israel’s image “. The facts stand bare, the cruel vivid reality is there for all to see. This continued lie that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of oppression from Palestinian Muslims, when contrasted against the stark policy decisions imposed by the state, is absurd.