The Wall/Barrier vs. Cremisan & Beit Jala

On April 24, an appeals tribunal attached to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court rejected an appeal filed jointly by the Sisters of the Salesian Order based in the Cremisan Monastery and 58 residents of nearby Beti Jala.  The appeal relates to the route of the separation wall/barrier on the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem/Beit Jala. With the appeal rejected, the Israeli military may now proceed to build the wall/fence along a route that both cuts through the Cremisan Convent/Monastery properties, and cuts off tens of Beit Jala residents from their agricultural lands. An appeal to the Israel High Court of Justice may ensue.

This ruling, and the plight of both the Sisters and the Beit Jala residents, has received considerable press attention, both in Israel/Palestine and internationally, particularly, but not exclusively in Catholic circles.

An excellent summary can be found in Charlotte Alfred’s Maan article, and we wish to limit ourselves to a number of comments that go beyond her very fine description of events and analysis.

The area in question is made up of a complex patchwork of groups and interests that are times harmonious and at times in conflict. The nearby village of Walajeh is split by the semi-fictitious and legally questionable Jerusalem Municipal boundary, making half of the village part of Jerusalem and leaving half in the West Bank. The area abuts the adjacent settlement of Har Gilo. The residents of Beit Jala have agricultural lands on the Israeli side of this dubious Jerusalem boundary, and the Salesians – both the Sisters and the Monks – have multiple attachments, some in Israel, many in Palestine.

Given the situation on the ground, it is evident that there is no route that the barrier can take without having a highly detrimental impact on the Palestinian and Christian stakeholders who live there. There may be a better alternative to the one sanctioned by the court – but even that alternative would still have a devastating impact on daily life in the area.

In recent months we have witnessed a coherent attempt to seal the final gaps in the barrier inside and adjacent to Jerusalem – and a total suspension of construction of the barrier elsewhere.  Thus, the area around the Shuafat Refugee Camp has been sealed, construction has proceeded in the Walajeh area, and the sealing of the areas near the Cliff Hotel in Abu Dis and of Beit Iqsa, west of the city, is imminent. On the other hand, the construction of the barrier/wall surrounding the Maaleh Adumim “bubble” and the Etzion Bloc has been totally suspended.

As a result, while the seal of Jerusalem is being implemented at Cremisan, with devastating effect to all who live nearby, a short distance away in the adjacent West Bank, there is neither a wall/barrier, nor an imminent plan to build one.

So it now becomes more than reasonable to ask: if it is sound security policy to abandon construction of the wall/barrier nearby in the West Bank, and in the absence of a route that has anything less than a devastating humanitarian impact, why then is it inconceivable to refrain from construction of a barrier at and near the Cremisan?

The prospect of any court of law in Israel – including the High Court of Justice – ruling that the barrier/wall need not be built at this time is negligible. It is nonetheless noteworthy that Israel’s decision to suspend construction of the wall/barrier in and around the settlement blocs did not result from a court verdict, or domestic opposition, but from resolute engagement on the part of the international community.

In this context, it is possible that similarly resolute engagement by the international community – both governments and the world churches – still holds out the prospect for delaying, and perhaps stopping, the construction of the wall/barrier at the Cremisan Monastery and nearby Beit Jala.