The Israeli Defense Ministry resumed work on its separation barrier near the West Bank town of Bayt Jala near Bethlehem. The wall will separate an Israeli settlement, Har Gilo, and Al-Walaja from Byat Jala.
Monday’s continuation of construction on the barrier is the result of a contentious nine-year court battle which saw the Walaja Town Council file a lawsuit on behalf of the town, Roman Catholic clergy and local villagers concerned with access to places of worship between Byat Jala and both Har Gilo and Al-Walaja.
The Israeli High Court heard the case in April and ruled in favor of the clergy, local Palestinian landowners and villagers; however a July ruling approved further construction.
A large portion of the wall is complete, but the continued labor is designed to conclude work on gaps which remained as the court heard arguments in the case.
Litigants in Al-Walaja and Catholic clergy had expressed concern the barrier would cause the citizens and clergy to proceed through military checkpoints guarded by Israeli soldiers to reach a Catholic convent and school in Byat Jala and landowners would lose access to farmland.
Beit Jala Mayor Nicola Khamis assailed the erection of the wall in the area:
“This is the quietest area, and there are no problems here,” Khamis said Monday. “Today they uprooted 1,500-year-old trees. How they want us to live here in peace, I don’t know.”
The Defense Ministry responded: “Construction of the security fence in the Beit Jala region is being carried out in accordance with the latest decisions by the High Court.”
Justices in the Israeli court’s April ruling compelled the Defense Ministry to seek alternative routes for the barrier. Weeks later, the Defense Ministry informed residents construction on the barrier would resume except for a 200-meter access way near the monastery for entry into the divided areas.
Israel began construction on the barrier in 2002 in response to the second Palestinian intifada which witnessed frequent Palestinian attacks on Israel and its citizens.
Israeli military officials admit the area is relatively tranquil now, but attribute the peaceful conditions to the existence of the wall, military security posts and travel permits, which they say has prevented the region from being besieged by suicide bombings and terror activity.[Haaretz] [IBTimes] [Photo courtesy 2012books.lardbucket.org]