Apr 8, 2015 / 13:18 pm
Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has praised an Israeli Supreme Court decision prohibiting the country's army from routing a security wall through Palestinian land in the West Bank, which would have separated 58 Christian families from their land.
The patriarch welcomed the April 2 decision as "a victory for Israeli justice itself since it had the courage to take such a decision."
He also noted "the efficacy of prayer," given that the former pastor of a nearby town said Mass on the wall's proposed site each Friday for years.
The priest, Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, said, "We have been suffering for nine years because we feared we'd lose our land. It wasn't easy to get this decision so we thank God."
The security barrier's proposed route through the Cremisan Valley – near the towns of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Bethlehem – would cut off a Salesian monastery from a nearby convent, isolating their ministries. Children would also be separated from the Salesians' school.
Planning on the wall began in 2002, as an effort to prevent suicide bombings. Beit Jala residents whose land would be confiscated by the barrier appealed to Israeli courts in 2006.
Last week's ruling, following a nine year legal battle, accepted their petition "and requested the state to consider other alternative that are less harmful to the local population and the Monasteries in the Cremisan Valley," according to the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights organization based in Jerusalem which joined the appeal, representing the Salesian convent.
Israel's Supreme Court "confirmed that the planned route as suggested by the Israeli Ministry of Defense is not the only alternative which could ensure security and cause the least harm possible as requested by Israeli administrative law," the society noted.
The court also rejected an alternative route proposed by the petitioners, as well as an Israeli army proposal to connect the monastery and convent by a gate in the wall. One of the judges added that in his opinion "any future plans should ensure that both Monasteries in the Cremisan valley should remain connected and in the same time both Monasteries should remain connected and accessible to the local community in Beit Jala," according to the Society of St. Yves – suggesting that both the monastery and convent should remain on the Palestinian side of the barrier.
According to the society, "in practical terms, the decision means that the separation wall will not be built as planned for by the Israeli army."
Patriarch Twal acknowledged both the local and international communitys' commitment to supporting the Palestinians. He noted in particular the support of rabbis and former Israeli soldiers.
Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, who chairs the English bishops' international affairs department, said April 7, "I am delighted that the High Court of Justice in Israel ruled on Maundy Thursday that the extension of the separation wall through the Cremisan valley 'violated the rights' of the people of Beit Jala."
"This judgment rightly puts paid to any attempts to weaken the status of Christians in this southern part of Palestine. Separating walls create difficulties in movement, access to worship and to education," he added.
The US bishops have also opposed the route of the security barrier. In February, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces warned the wall would have "devastating consequences" for the local community, and that "the situation in the Cremisan Valley is a microcosm of a protracted pattern that seriously jeopardizes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."
And in May 2013, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines had decried an Israeli Special Appeals Committee decision approving the route of the wall through the Cremisan Valley, explaining it would "cut families off from agricultural and recreational lands, other family members, water sources and schools – including depriving Christian Palestinian youth of fellowship with their peers."
The construction of the barrier is believed to be linked to the protection of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank; some 500,000 Jews currently live in more than 100 West Bank settlements, according to the BBC. Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal, though Israel disputes this.