In the Cremisan Valley, on the outskirts of Bethlehem, three Roman Catholic priests prayed as Israeli diggers set to work pulling out centuries old olive trees. The diggers had arrived on Tuesday to resume the construction of the separation wall in the Valley, despite a court ruling against further work in April 2015. Israel's high court ordered the defence ministry to reconsider the route in order to protect the small religious community that resides there, but a subsequent ruling in July gave it the green light.
The Cremisan Valley is home to the only Palestinian vineyard in the West Bank. For over 150 years monks, from the Salesian order, have made the famous Cremisan wine from the grapes that grow in the Valley. Today the area is home to the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan's convent, the Salesian monastery, a school, 58 families and the Cremisan Cellars.
The previous plan for the wall proposed that the convent, and adjacent school, remain on the Palestinian side of the wall, with the Cremisan monastery and winery on the Israeli side. The nuns would lose access to 75 percent of their land and the school which has been run by the Salesian Sisters since it was built in 1960 and which serves 400 children, would be situated in a military zone surrounded by the separation wall.
The latest construction plans include a 200 meter gap near the monastery and convent that would remain a "hole" in the barrier, supposedly preventing separation of the two. The Society of St. Yves Catholic Center for Human Rights, which represents the convent, is however concerned that this aims to create "facts on the ground", especially as the construction is going ahead without the plans for the walls route being presented. The gap confines the possibilities for a route that is less harmful.
Israel is using security concerns to justify the building of the wall. But critics argue the Cremisan Valley's location between two illegal Israel settlements; Har Gilo and Gilo makes it likely that there is an ulterior motive. The case's attorney argues that Israel's desire to connect the two settlements, which house a combined total of 35,500 Jewish settlers, lies behind the plans.
The wall, which Israel begun building in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, will extend 712 kilometres (442 miles) when finished, zigzagging curves and loops that separate the West Bank from Israel. According to OCHA, some 85% of the Barrier's route runs inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line, and if completed as planned, the Barrier will isolate 9.4% of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In its 2004 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) established that the sections of the Barrier which run inside the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, together with the associated gate and permit regime, violate Israel's obligations under international law.
The wall is part of a system of control that curtails the rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the settler communities, the network of Jewish only roads which connect them to Israel proper, and the military checkpoints which dot the West Bank are all part of the same system. Even if the wall does not directly sever the monastery and the convent, it will still cast its shadow over the residents of the Cremisan.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.