Bethlehem Mayor Recruiting Pope to Intervene on West Bank Barrier

Planned route would cut off convent and its school from Bethlehem, make West Bank city economically unsustainable, says Vera Baboun ahead of visit to see Francis.

Reuters

The mayor of the West Bank town of Bethlehem is hoping Pope Francis will help her prevent Israel from extending its security barrier near her city.

Vera Baboun says she plans to ask Pope Francis to intervene in a dispute over Israel's plans to build the fence through the Cremisan Valley, at the site of a convent school, according to Catholic World News.

She is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome next month, along with leaders from other West Bank towns, when she plans to intervene on her behalf to get Israel to change its plans.

The mayor says the wall would block economic development, rendering Bethlehem unsustainable, the news service reported.

The Israeli High Court of Justice is reviewing the disputed portion of the security fence, which would be built near the town of Beit Jala. The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court in 2012 approved land appropriation for the barrier along a route that would annex about 75 percent of the convent's property, where the school is located.

Palestinians argue that the wall, in any of the locations Israel has proposed, would either separate the school from the town where the students live, or block off access to the only green area near Bethlehem, the Catholic News reported.

This would not be the first time the pope has been asked to weigh in on the valley. In 2012, lawyers representing the convent asked Pope Benedict XVI to keep Cremisan on the agenda when he met with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Olivier Fitoussi