On Jan. 29 the residents of the Cremisan Valley in the West Bank near here had their day in court. On Monday (Feb. 3) they received a favorable decision.
The Israeli Supreme Court ordered the state of Israel to show justification for the proposed route of the separation wall through the valley by April 10 and to halt all construction until then.
Advocates for the Cremisan Valley hope that this signals a future full cancellation of the land seizures required for the barrier construction.
This piece of the larger debate surrounding the separation wall began when plans were announced to construct a portion of Israel’s separation wall on land in the Bethlehem area that includes a convent of Salesian sisters, a Salesian monastery, and farmland belonging to 58 Palestinian families.
A May 2013 PNS report covered the story. All of this land, if the current plan were allowed to go through, would be annexed to Israel, separating the monastery from a school which it operates for 400 underprivileged Palestinian children. The current plan would also threaten Cremisan Cellars, the famous winery whose profits support the school.
The Supreme Court’s decision came after a three-hour session in which the Court heard the case against the location of this section of the wall. A significant part of the court hearing involved the testimony of the Council of Peace and Security, comprised of high ranking Israeli security personnel.
In their testimony against the current proposed route, representatives from the Council argued that an alternate route for the wall, dropping below the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo, would be less destructive for the community and would better address the security needs of Israel. The needs of the Christian groups affected were not addressed by the Israeli council.
On April 24, 2013, the Special Appeals Committee of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court had approved the appropriation of the land, rejecting protests from the affected parties.
Appeals against the separation wall have been flooding the Israeli courts for the past eight years. Most of them have been rejected by the Israeli High Court as well as the Special Appeals Committee, which reviews petitions against Israeli seizure of land under Israel’s 1949 Emergency Land Requisition Law.
The April decision of the Appeals Court brought heavy protest from the international community, including United States Secretary of State, John Kerry. The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land protested the decision as well, noting in their statement that “the expropriation of lands does not serve the cause of peace and does not strengthen the position of moderates.”
During the current session, the monks of the Cremisan Valley were represented as a party in court for the first time. An advocate for the monks noted their rejection of the wall on principle and objected to its particular effect in this case of separating the monks from the communities which they serve.
The lawsuit against the construction of the wall in the Cremisan Valley was filed by the Society of St Yves, a Catholic human rights organization working in the Holy Land.
While the current ruling is not a definitive victory, advocates see it as the first sign of hope in the dispute.
Anica Heinlein, an advocacy officer for the Society, speaking with the Ma’an News Agency, noted, “If you look at where we started from when we entered the court with little hope for anything and now we have the situation where they have to justify the wall, it looks very promising.”
Robert Trawick is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruling elder living in New City, N.Y. He is an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y.