Palestinian landowners and Roman Catholic nuns at a convent near Jerusalem made a final legal appeal on Tuesday against the route of the West Bank barrier which threatens to cut them off from their land.
At a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court, lawyers made their final arguments in a years-long case against the planned route of the separation barrier in the Cremisan Valley on the outskirts of Beit Jala, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The petitioners say that if the route is not changed, the towering concrete barrier will cut off 58 families from their land and separate a Roman Catholic convent from a monastery of the same Salesian order.
“The petitioners are asking that the route of the barrier be moved outside of the Cremisan Valley. They are not saying where it should go but are asking for it to be put somewhere which causes less harm to the community,” said Anica Heinlein, spokeswoman for the St Yves Society which represents the Salesian Sisters convent.
The landowners’ case against the route of the barrier began in 2006 after the military issued seizure orders for the land, she said. The initial case was launched by the 58 families and later joined by the Salesian nuns and the monks.
“This is the final hearing then [the judges] will look through all the material from the last seven years and make a decision,” she said.
It was not clear how quickly a decision would be made.
“If it fails, we will go to the High Court,” she said.
“I’m not optimist,” landowner Naama Napoleon Abu Muhur told AFP at the court.
“The Israelis have been waging a war of attrition against us over the wall since 2006 when they first came and bulldozed my land,” she said.
“I cannot imagine the beautiful place that is Beit Jala being surrounded by cement instead of olive trees. It will be a catastrophe.
“If this court doesn’t help us, we will have to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Activists say that if the barrier is built, it will deprive Beit Jala of 3,527 dunums (880 acres/352 hectares) of land and will cut off the two Salesian communities from each other, leaving the Salesian Sisters’ convent on the Palestinian side and the monastery and its adjoining winery on the Israeli side.
Israel began work on the barrier in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, and has pointed to a drop in deadly attacks as proof of its success.
The Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab, pointing out that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.