Israel barrier will 'separate Christian communities'

An Israeli court has ruled in favour of building a West Bank barrier across the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, a Roman Catholic group said on Friday vowing to appeal what it says will deprive a Christian community of its land.

The Society of St Yves said the verdict issued on Wednesday by the Israeli Special Appeals Committee, which rules on land confiscation, will cut in half the Cremisan Valley, branding the decision "highly problematic and unjust."

The towering concrete barrier that Israel plans to erect for security reasons will cut off 58 families, mostly Christians, from lush green land, and separate a Roman Catholic convent from a monastery of the same Salesian order.

"The Israeli Special Appeals Committee rules in favour of building the separation wall on the lands of the Cremisan Valley," the Society of St. Yves said.

The Palestinian landowners and St Yves, who represents the nuns, made a final pitch in February to stop Israeli authorities from going ahead with erecting the barrier.

Their first legal appeal was launched seven years ago.

The petitioners have been demanding that the route of the barrier be moved outside the Cremisan Valley, home to centuries old vineyards.

For more than a century the Palestinian landowners of Beit Jala near the holy city of Bethlehem have produced altar wine from grapes grown in the Cremisan Valley, which is also home to the Salesian convent and a school of the same denomination.

Activists say that if the barrier is built, it will deprive Beit Jala of 3,527 dunums (880 acres/352 hectares) of land and will cut off the two Salesian communities from each other, leaving the convent on the Palestinian side and the monastery and its adjoining winery on the Israeli side.

Israel began work on the barrier in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, and has pointed to a drop in deadly attacks as proof of its success.

The Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab, pointing out that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.

"The Society of St Yves was initially successful in changing the primary course of the wall, by which the convent and the school will remain on the Palestinian side of the wall," a statement said.

But the societ "sees the verdict as highly problematic and unjust as it doesn't even discuss the violation of freedom of religion, the right to education as well as the economical damage caused for a unique Christian minority in Beit Jala by the construction of the wall."

"St. Yves will consider taking the case to the High Court," it added.