BETHLEHEM (Ma’an)

Palestinian Christians clashed with
Israeli forces following mass on Sunday when demonstrators, including priests,
marched to protest renewed work on Israel’s controversial separation wall in
the Christian majority town of Beit Jala in the occupied West Bank.The march, the latest in a string of
protests, moved through neighborhoods in the Bethlehem-district town where
Israeli forces are extending the separation wall, which is considered illegal
under international law.Israeli forces shot tear-gas at
protesters and physical altercations broke out when Israeli forces attempted to
suppress the protest.Two protesters were arrested for
allegedly throwing stones at soldiers guarding the construction zone, police
said. One of several clergymen participated in the march, including Archbishop
and former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah.

Sabbah denounced the work that began
earlier this month.”This land belongs to us,” he said.”Whatever they do, whatever
their courts say, this land belongs to us and it will return to us one day. You
are stronger with your guns, but you are not the strongest when it comes to
humanity.”In addition to the separation wall,
protesters also condemned the nearby illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo and
Har Gilo, which they fear will be expanded if construction on the wall goes
ahead.Archbishop Sabbah urged the world to
support the people of Beit Jala in their battle against the separation wall and
called on the Palestinian Authority to bring attention to Israeli violations
against Palestinians.Nearly 60 kilometers of the wall
already cuts through Bethlehem district and is built on Palestinian land, the
UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs reports,Israel’s High Court ruled in April
that work through Beit Jala must stop and told the government to consider
alternative routes.However, on July 6 the court
reversed the decision, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of
a few hundred meters alongside a monastery in the town’s Cremisan Valley.

Walid Assad,
the head of a local group, the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission,
said that demonstrators rejected the Israeli authorities’ aim to seize
Palestinian land and isolate Palestinian communities in the area.Assaf said that details of Israel’s confiscation
of Palestinians land in Beit Jala ought to be submitted to the International
Criminal Court.Mazin Qumsiyeh, a popular resistance
activist, added that the separation wall would destroy nature in the area by
uprooting of trees and plants necessary for its expansion.Earlier this month, European Union
missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah said they were “concerned” about
the renewed construction work in Cremisan, noting that it will directly affect
the livelihoods of 58 families.

A 15-member delegation of European
Union diplomats later visited Beit Jala to assess the situation. Local
Christian landowners said that construction of the wall could ultimately force
them to emigrate and “cleanse” the area of its Christian residents.Israel
began building the separation wall with concrete slabs, fences and barbed-wire
inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, or
uprising, claiming that it was crucial for security.The International Court of Justice
ruled in 2004 that construction of the wall was illegal and, like the UN
General Assembly, demanded that it be dismantled.

Palestinians, many of whom refer to
it as the “apartheid wall,” say the wall is a land grab, pointing out
that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.The wall has already completely cut
off occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.The Applied Research Institute in
Jerusalem says the wall will effectively annex around 13 percent of the total
area of the West Bank.Palestinians
living in the Bethlehem district have already lost a substantial amount of land
due to the wall and the expansion of 19 Jewish-only settlements and outposts in
the area.

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