Final Mass in West Bank Town as Supreme Court Due to Rule on Land Seizure

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Residents of the West Bank village of Beit Jala held their last weekly mass on Friday in an area that is slated for seizure for the extension of Israel's separation barrier, the Palestinian independent news service Ma'an reported.

The Supreme Court is due to rule on an appeal to halt the land seizure this week.

About 60 Palestinians, including representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches, gathered on a hilltop in the Cremisan Valley to pray for a halt to the building of the barrier, which is set to annex the entire green area north of the largely-Christian Beit Jala.

The weekly mass has been held since 2011. Rev. Ibrahim Shomali, a Catholic priest who led the mass, thanked the crowd for its support over the years and said it was now up to the Israeli court to decide on the "future of our presence in the Holy Land."

Issa Kassissieh, Palestine's ambassador to the Vatican, which owns the land threatened with confiscation, told Ma'an that the seizure was unacceptable. "The pope is coming as a peace pilgrimage to the Holy Land to build bridges and here we are seeing that a wall is being erected."

Israel is constructing some of the last segments of the barrier on lands west of Bethlehem, including the Cremisan monastery area, and al-Walaja village.

After a seven-year legal battle, 58 local landowners and nuns from the Salesian convent lost an appeal against the route of the separation barrier in April 2013. The ruling proposed that the convent and adjacent school remain on the Palestinian side of the wall, but the nuns would lose access to 75 percent of their land and the school would be situated in a military zone surrounded by the separation wall.

The Cremisan monastery and winery would be on the Israeli side on the wall, splitting the religious community, and residents would no longer be able to participate in the annual religious event of the Holy Spirit Procession, in which local Christians walk from Cremisan to the Annunciation church in Beit Jala.
After a lengthy legal battle, residents have little faith that justice will prevail through Israeli courts.

View of Beit Jala from Gilo.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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