Just as the peace talks between Israel and Palestine seem to be sputtering, Israel has thrown still another obstacle in the road: their attempt to extend the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. In the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem and next to Bethlehem, the valley is a beloved oasis, if not stronghold, of Christianity. If the wall is built, a convent of Salesian sisters who run a school with 400 students, a monastery of brothers and 58 Christian farmers would be cut off from their work, recreational lands and water sources. It is far from the international border drawn after the Six Day War in 1967.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, along with bishops from Europe, Canada and South Africa, visited the agricultural valley in January. The bishops have acknowledged Israel’s need for security, but strongly condemned the seizure of land. On Jan. 28, Bishop Pates asked Secretary of State John Kerry to press Israel to “cease and desist in its efforts to unnecessarily confiscate Palestinian lands in the Occupied West Bank.” He wrote about his visit to the valley: “I was simply astounded by the injustice of it all.”
The community in the Cremisan Valley received some temporary relief on Feb. 3. In response to a citizens’ appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a preliminary order to stop construction of the wall in that area. Israel has until April 10 to explain why there are no alternative routes. In October 2012, the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land said the planned construction of the wall “will put more pressure” on the Christians living in Bethlehem, and “more people will make the decision to leave.” It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is what the government of Israel intends.