Palestinian Christians plea with Pope to oppose new Israeli separation wall

Published April 30th, 2013 - 10:59 GMT
An Israeli solider stands by iconic Banksy grafitti on the Israeli separation barrier that runs through Bethlehem. Getty Photo
An Israeli solider stands by iconic Banksy grafitti on the Israeli separation barrier that runs through Bethlehem. Getty Photo

A group of Palestinian Christians living in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, on Monday sent a letter to Pope Francis urging him to take a definitive stance on the recent decision taken by Israel to build a separation barrier in their area.

The Christians argue that the wall, if it is built, will cut off their community.

“We cry to your Holiness with a feeling of despair and urgency in order to keep alive our hope that justice and peace is still possible," they said in the open letter.

“The Israeli military occupation that has already started building the ‘famous wall’ annexing Palestinian land… [is] separating Bethlehem as well as other regions from Jerusalem and our holy places,” it added, urging the Pope to oppose Israel’s plans.

“We need concrete actions in order to end Israel’s impunity so we can live with dignity in our free state. Your holiness, your election brought us hope that things would change. We are still hopeful.”

There is perhaps cause for the letter writers to be positive - Pope Francis is acknowledged to have a special interest in the Middle East, even including a prayer for Syria in his Easter message. 

The letter coincides with the visit of Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, to Italy on a three-day visit during which he will meet with the newly elected Pope.

The need for action is pressing; last week an Israeli court ruled in favour of the construction of the separation barrier. It will run through the 170-hectare Cremisan Valley, where many of those living in Beit Jala forge their livelihoods, working on its lands.

Beit Jala residents and those who penned the letter argue that if the barrier is erected, it will cut them off from the valley, therefore destroying their livelihoods, as well as cutting them off from Jerusalem and inflicting isolation on their town.

Despite the optimism of the Israeli court, there are still legal question marks over the construction of such barriers. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that certain parts of the already existing separation barrier were illegal and should be demolished.

The Cremisan barrier would be a break from the traditional route of the “Green Line” barrier, which is largely internationally accepted and runs along a route marking the territories that Israel acquired during the Six Day War in 1967.

“We respectfully ask you to make use of this meeting to pass a strong message regarding the people of Palestine, and particularly the case of Beit Jala’s Cremisan land,” the letter urged Peres on the eve of his arrival in Italy. 

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