Beit Jala, Occupied Territories (IMEMC) – Palestinian Christians clashed with Israeli forces, following mass on Sunday, when priests and demonstrators marched to protest renewed work on the apartheid wall in the Christian majority town of Beit Jala, in the occupied West Bank.
The march, the most recent in a string of protests, moved through neighborhoods in the Bethlehem-district town where Israeli forces have started new work on the separation wall, which is illegal under international law.
Protesters, according to Ma’an, also condemned the nearby illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, which they fear will be expanded if the construction on the wall goes ahead.
Several clergymen participated in the march led by Archbishop and Latin Patriarch Micheal Sabbah. Israeli forces shot tear-gas at protesters and physical altercations broke out between Israeli forces attempting to suppress the protest.
Sabbah urged the world to support the people of Beit Jala in their battle against the separation wall and called on the Palestinian Authority to bring attention to Israeli violations against Palestinians. Nearly 60 kilometers of the wall already cuts through the Bethlehem governorate and is built on Palestinian land, according to the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. Israel’s High Court ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes.
However, on July 6 the court reversed the decision, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred meters alongside a monastery in the town’s Cremisan Valley.
Walid Assad, the head of a local group, the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, said that demonstrators rejected the Israeli authorities’ aim to seize Palestinian land and isolate Palestinian communities in the area.
Assaf added that details of Israel’s confiscation of Palestinians land in Beit Jala ought to be submitted to the International Criminal Court.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, a popular resistance activist, said that the separation wall would destroy nature in the area by uprooting of trees and plants necessary for its expansion.
Earlier this month, European Union missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah said they were “concerned” about the renewed construction work in Cremisan, noting that it will directly affect the livelihoods of 58 families.
A 15-member delegation of European Union diplomats later visited Beit Jala to assess the situation. Local Christian landowners said that construction of the wall could ultimately force them to emigrate and “cleanse” the area of its Christian residents.
Israel began building the separation wall with concrete slabs, fences and barbed-wire inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, or uprising, claiming that it was crucial for security.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that construction of the wall was illegal and, like the UN General Assembly, demanded that it be dismantled.
Palestinians, many of whom refer to it as the “apartheid wall,” say the wall is a land grab, pointing out that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.
The wall has already completely cut off occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem says the wall will effectively annex around 13 percent of the total area of the West Bank.
Palestinians living in the Bethlehem district have already lost a substantial amount of land due to the wall and the expansion of 19 Jewish-only settlements and outposts in the area.
This report was prepared by IMEMC.