Issa – Cremisan Valley

By EA Katherine, in Southern West Bank

Issa knows that we know about the illegal seizure of his land and the extension of the separation barrier in the Cremisan valley of Bethlehem. He has hosted a lot of what he calls “formal people”. They have come from many countries, shown compassion, gone again and nothing has changed for him.

21/02/2016 Bir Ouna Issa al Shatleh explains to EAPPI about the construction of the Separation Barrier on his land. Photo: EAPPI I Neiva

Bir Ouna Issa al Shatleh explains to EAPPI about the construction of the Separation Barrier on his land. [Photo:: EAPPI/I Neiva]

The weekly masses in the valley caught attention around the world, including in the UK and Ireland, with the BBC reporting. In April 2015 that Palestinians were celebrating a court victory in a case that had drawn the attention of Pope Francis.  But with the Israeli courts having since decided that construction should continue for security reasons regardless of whether it is legal or not, options for the people of Cremisan valley are running out.  Even on a stormy day, the noise of pneumatic drilling competes with the gusting wind.  Whatever eventually happens to the legal case Issa has been fighting since 2006, he will have to live with the Separation Barrier on his land.

1-Beit Ouna prayer EAPPI Olivera D.

Prayer service for the Cremisan Valley olives and land. [Photo: EAPPI/Olivera D]

Very soon Issa will have to apply for a permit to go through the gate to access his land. Even then, not much of his land remains as the Separation Barrier and its accompanying buffer zone takes up most of it. This is despite the Separation Barrier contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention and its route being ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice[1].   The court’s 2004 advisory opinion called for construction to cease and the international community to act.  Particularly relevant for the Cremisan valley, where the barrier is being constructed about 3km on the Palestinian side of the green line, it called for the barrier to be dismantled from Palestinian land and for people affected to be compensated.

1-Bir Ouna The gate in the Separation Barrier is almost complete. Photo EAPPI K Fox

21/02/2016 Bir Ouna The gate in the Separation Barrier extension is almost complete. [Photo: EAPPI/K Fox]

Issa’s biggest worry is that the extension of the Separation Barrier will speed up the emigration of Christians in the Bethlehem area. We are the living roots, he says, and soon there will be no Christians left in the birth place of Christ.   Last month, Catholic Bishops from around the world were stopped by the Israeli army from visiting the site of construction to see for themselves the impact it is having.  In September last year the Bishop of Southwark asked in the House of Lords about the impact continued construction in the Cremisan valley is having on prospects for a two state solution.

The next time someone calls, Issa will drive down to see his land again and tell his story to formal people. The concrete will stretch further towards the bare end of the barrier up the valley. Perhaps the tarmac will have gone down on the security access road that will run in front of the barrier.  Those visitors won’t be able to join the weekly mass or peaceful protest. After the Israeli army used tear gas and sound bombs, including on the children present, the landowners no longer feel they can put their families through it.

Let’s hope that those people will tell Issa that his land hasn’t been forgotten even though the altar table, along with the olive trees, has left the valley. That Issa will know the support from around the world will keep coming without him needing to weigh up the costs to his family.

Take action box 2

Write to your Church leaders drawing their attention to the fact that construction of the Separation Barrier in the Cremisan valley is almost complete, and encourage them to continue to speak out

Find out more from the Society of St Yves, which has been providing legal representation to those affected

Check back here for updates on the situation

[1] The International Court of Justice specifically confirmed that the route of the Separation Barrier breaches article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the destruction of property and that this destruction is not justified for security reasons.