A Catholic monastery and convent in the secluded Cremisan Valley outside Bethlehem lost a seven-year legal battle against the construction of Israel's "separation barrier" across its land on April 24. The wall will surround the convent and primary school on three sides, confiscating most of its land. A small gate will be built to allow nuns and monks to access the Salesian Monastery and Convent in order to "guarantee their right of freedom of religion." The gate will also allow farmers and landowners to access their lands on the other side of the wall, although they will need permits to reach them.
The Israeli Special Appeals Committee for land seizure under emergency law issued the verdict in a case brought by the Society of Saint Yves, a Catholic human rights group which argued the case on the monastery's behalf. The group's advocacy offier Anica Heinlein said "that the plan would violate international law and conventions protecting religious minorities and the right to education and freedom of religion."
Around 50,000 Palestinian Christians, including 17,000 Catholics, live among 4 million Muslims in the West Bank and in Gaza. Some 90% of Palestinian Christians live in a 20-kilometer stretch from Ramallah and East Jerusalem to Bethlehem—an area locked in a labyrinth of Jewish settlements, Israeli-only roads and the concrete walls of the separation barrier.
"The occupation hurts Christians and Muslims both, but affects the Christian community more because it's a smaller percentage of the population," said Xavier Abu Eid, a diplomat in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). "This is a matter of their survival, as this is one of the last pieces of land the community owns."
Israeli President Shimon Peres will meet the newly elected pope next week during a visit to Italy. The two men are due to discuss ties between Israel and the Vatican and improving relations between Christians and Jews. It was not immediately clear if the new pontiff would raise the issue of the monastery. (Reuters, Al-Akhbar, Independent Catholic News, April 26)