Israel Builds West Bank Separation Barrier Despite Court Ruling

Palestinian mayor blasts uprooting of '1,500-year-old olive trees.'

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Israeli excavators uproot olive treers to make way for the separation barrier near Beit Jala, August 17, 2015.
Israeli excavators uproot olive treers to make way for the separation barrier near Beit Jala, August 17, 2015.Credit: AFP

The Defense Ministry resumed construction on Monday of the separation barrier near Beit Jala, south of Jerusalem, even though the High Court of Justice had invalidated the building of the barrier in that region and ordered the state to reconsider it.

On Monday, heavy equipment came to the area and uprooted olive trees and earthwork in preparation for the barrier’s construction in the Cremisan Valley, between the city of Beit Jala and the settlement of Har Gilo and the village of Walaja.

After nine years of legal proceedings, the High Court of Justice in April accepted a petition against the route of the barrier that had been filed by landowners, the Walaja town council and the Roman Catholic Cremisan Monastery and its related convent. The convent and the monastery would have been separated from one another by the barrier, while the landowners said they would be separated from their lands.

“The respondents must swiftly reconsider the various alternatives for the separation fence route in this section,” the justices wrote. Despite this, only three weeks after the ruling, attorney Giat Nasser, who represents the residents and the Beit Jala municipality, received a letter from the Defense Ministry saying it had decided to continue building the barrier along the invalidated route, except for 200 meters near the monastery and convent that would remain a “hole” in the barrier.

Palestinian Christian worshippers and priests take part in an open-air mass to protest against the building of Israel's controversial barrier in the Cremisan Valley, August 18, 2015.Credit: AFP

“They apparently haven’t reconciled themselves to the ruling,” said Nasser. “What they’re doing is ‘feeding’ the court, stage by stage. After they build the fence they’ll say it’s already up, then they’ll ask to build the loops around the monasteries, because there won’t be any choice.”

Nasser filed another petition against the barrier last month and asked for an interim injunction to prevent the work from starting. But although such an injunction had been in place for nine years, Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham refused to renew the injunction, allowing the work to proceed. Now Nasser is demanding an urgent hearing of his petition.

“This is the quietest area and there are no problems here,” Beit Jala Mayor Nicola Khamis said Monday. “Today they uprooted 1,500-year-old trees. How they want us to live here in peace, I don’t know.”

The Defense Ministry said, “Construction of the security fence in the Beit Jala region is being carried out in accordance with the latest decisions by the High Court.”

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