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Salesians 'deplore' Israel's decision to proceed with separation wall

(Vatican Radio) The Salesian Province of the Middle East issued a press release Friday, saying it “strongly deplores the verdict” of an Israeli tribunal, which has upheld the completion of a separation wall that will cut off a Salesian convent from direct access to its agricultural land and the community it serves.

The lives for two Salesian monasteries, a few kilometres from Bethlehem, and the people of the nearby Palestinian community of Beit Jala will change dramatically once a six-metre concrete separation wall is completed as planned.

The Salesians recently lost their seven-year battle to stop Israeli authorities from building of the wall through their property, when an Israeli Commission issued its decision April 24.

The wall is planned to surround the Salesian nuns’ convent and their primary school on three sides; both will sit on the Palestinian side.

The men’s convent will sit on the Israeli side of the wall, along with about 300 hectares of land, which the Salesian monks and nuns own and use to provide agricultural training to the residents of the small neighbouring Christian village of Beit Jala.

The 450 Palestinian children, who attend the school, will have to cross a security gate at set hours to attend class. And the nuns will also have to cross the security checkpoint at set hours to access their land. Effectively, the sisters will be cut off from the people they are there to serve.

The Catholic bishops in the Holy Land join the Salesians in their reaction and are calling for the decision to be reversed.

Wadie Abunassar, a political analyst and chairman of the media committee for the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Holy Land, explained why the local Church is unfavourable to the decision.

“It is far from reflecting true justice since, first of all, it confiscates land from occupied territories. Secondly, this decision harms about 58 Palestinian families. Third, it affects negatively the Church property in the area. And fourth, above all, this decision does not reflect the culture of peace, which we eagerly need in the… Middle East.”

Abunassar said consultations with various legal authorities are currently underway to discuss the possibility of appealing the decision.

He said there are also efforts “to check the possibility on other tracks, such as the political one, by addressing the Israeli authorities to consider positively changing this decision and really respecting the international law in this regard.”

Pointing to previous cases where the separation wall has been re-rerouted, he said the local Church is hopeful that the current situation is reversible to some degree and that “things could change.”

In the meantime, the 58 Palestinian families affected by the completion of the wall are weighing their options.

“Some of them think, unfortunately, about moving. Others are thinking of protesting in different ways,” he said. “But what is sure is that the Church it trying to (embrace) these families and to cooperate to really try to find every possible way to bring justice to them.”

Abunassar urged all Christians and non-Christians not to abandon these families in their battle. Peace and justice in the Holy Land, he said, is in the interest of Israel and of all humankind.

Listen to Laura Ieraci’s interview with Mr. Wadie Abunassar: RealAudioMP3