Thursday, August 27

EU delegation visits area threatened with annexation in Beit Jala

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A delegation of European Union diplomats on Tuesday visited the Christian majority village of Beit Jala near Bethlehem to assess recent Israeli efforts to go ahead with a segment of the separation wall that would cut through the village's territory.
The 15-member delegation, which included representatives of France, Germany, and Sweden, among others, was updated on recent developments by the Society of St. Yves Catholic Center for Human Rights.
The diplomats visited an area of the village known as Bir Onah, which together with the adjacent Cremisan Valley, would see its land cut off if the Israeli separation wall goes ahead.
The Society of St. Yves, which is representing a nun's convent in Cremisan, told the delegation that that the Israeli army had refused to abide by a petition they submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court on July 30.
The petition asked the court to order the Israeli Ministry of Defense to reveal its planned route for the separation wall through Beit Jala, and not to allow the army to build the wall until the plan has been presented.
Xavier Abu Eid, consultant at the PLO's negotiations support unit, thanked the EU delegation for their support and for their interest and follow-up on the cause. He called on the diplomats to hold Israel accountable for violations of international law.
Local Christian landowners also presented testimonies to the EU diplomats. They said that Israel's plans would cut them off from their land, damaging their main source of income.
They said that this could ultimately force them to emigrate and "cleanse" the area of its Christian residents.
They called on the delegation to exert pressure on Israel to stop the construction of the wall in the area.
The EU representatives did not make an official statement and were only there to assess the situation, the Society of St. Yves told Ma'an.
However, the EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah last week said they were "concerned" about the beginning of construction work in Cremisan, noting that it will directly affect the livelihoods of 58 families.
There has been fierce opposition from the local Palestinian community to Israel's plans to build the separation wall through Beit Jala and the town's Cremisan Valley.
The case garnered special attention when the wall was slated to separate the Cremisan monastery from the neighboring convent and vineyards.
It would have also separated Palestinians in the nearby Christian village of Beit Jala from their olive groves.
Israel's High Court ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes.
However, in July the court reversed the decision, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred meters alongside the monastery.
Last Monday, Israeli bulldozers began to uproot olive trees east of the convent and monastery.
Israel began building the separation wall with concrete walls, fences and barbed-wire inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada, claiming the barrier was crucial for security.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that construction of the barrier was illegal and, along with the UN General Assembly, demanded that it be dismantled.
When complete, the 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank, and will have effectively annexed around 13 percent of the West Bank, according to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem.

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