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Israeli Settlements Hasten Christians Exodus

Published: 23/12/2011 01:35:24 PM GMT
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CREMISAN VALLEY - Living peacefully with Muslims for decades, Palestinian Christians in the West Bank are warily watching the Israeli separation barrie (more)

CREMISAN VALLEY - Living peacefully with Muslims for decades, Palestinian Christians in the West Bank are warily watching the Israeli separation barrier and settlements eating up the land of the Cremisan Valley, effectively separating Bethlehem from Al-Quds (Occupied Jerusalem).  

“With this confiscation, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will no longer be connected," Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestine Liberation Organization spokesman who comes from a Beit Jala family, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Friday, December 23.

“That's something that the Christian world should understand.”

For decades, the dwindling Christian community of Beit Jala and Bethlehem has joined its Muslim neighbors to work the land of the Cremisan Valley during the week, and picnic here with their families at the weekend.

However, the route of Israeli's controversial separation barrier cut them from the valley, placing it on the Israeli side and out of their reach.

Separating southern West Bank town of Bethlehem from Jerusalem, which is five kilometers (three miles) away, the barrier was seen as part of long-standing attempt to annex Palestinian territories to Israeli mushrooming settlements.

The Cremisan valley is well-known for its vineyards which are run by Roman Catholic monks from the Salesian order, and which provide wine to churches throughout the Holy Land.

The threat to Cremisan is especially hard to bear, said Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian envoy to Paris, because the area is a rare remaining green space.

"For me, as a Bethlehemite, Cremisan is particularly important, it's a breathing space for us," she said.

"As a child, it was the place where we went for picnics, that's where we went for Sunday outings and where families got together."

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a landmark ruling in 2004 branding the wall as illegal and asking Israel to compensate affected Palestinians.

In the Cremisan area, such barrier deviates from the Green Line, the internationally-accepted line marking the divide between Israel and the territories it occupied in the 1967 war.

Landowners have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to intervene on their behalf, and are waiting, with little hope of a reprieve, for a ruling sometime in January.

Christian Exodus

For the Christian minority living in the West Bank, the loss of the Cremisan valley will only push them overseas.

"Families will lose their land, their work and their future for their children, what will they do? They will leave the country," Ibrahim Shomali, Beit Jala's parish priest, said.

"The presence of the Christian community here in the Holy Land makes this conflict a political conflict, not a religious conflict," he said.

Growing up in the northern ridge of the valley, Abu Eid say this area is currently occupied by Israeli settlement of Gilo. Another settlement, Har Gilo, currently occupies the southern ridge.

Both sit on land belonging to Beit Jala, and more of that land will disappear as the barrier rips through the 1,700 dunams (420 acre, 170 hectares) Cremisan Valley, residents say.

Occupying the lands of the valley, Abu Eid say Israel's ongoing seizure of land is directly connected with the falling number of Christians in the Holy Land.

"When people are talking about Christians emigrating, it's important to know that one of the factors is that basically we have no land anymore."

Abu Eid says Beit Jala alone has lost over 10,000 dunams (2,471 acres, 1,000 hectares) to settlements, annexation and the barrier.

"This whole area has been confiscated slowly but surely," adds Khoury, who says the barrier's route, snaking from the southwest of Bethlehem to the north east, will leave the region "literally closed in".

"This is a successive thing. They don't want the Palestinians, but they want their land."

About 50,000 Christians live in the West Bank, Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip, according to MP Bernard Sabella, a former Professor of Sociology at Bethlehem University.

Christians make up less than 1.5 percent of the total population inside the occupied Palestinian territories, 10 percent of Israeli Arabs and slightly more than 6 percent of the world's Palestinian population of more than 9 million.

Reproduced with permission from

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