West Bank security fence 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Local church leaders on Tuesday denied reports that the Vatican has allowed the
IDF to build the security fence on its land in the Cremisan Valley, so that the
property could remain on the Israeli side of the barrier.
The valley is
situated between the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the West Bank
settlement of Har Gilo in the Gush Etzion region.
It borders the Walaja
village which is battling Israeli plans to build additional sections of the
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land on
Tuesday issued a statement to the press in which it condemned construction of
the barrier in the valley.
The statement was signed by 22 church leaders
region including Waldemar Sommertag, the charge d’Affairs of the Apostolic
Delegation in Jerusalem and Palestine.
“The Catholic Ordinaries deny the
existence of any explicit or implicit agreement between the Vatican, the local
church and Israeli authorities regarding the construction of this illegal wall,”
the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land wrote in a statement to the
A spokesman for the group said it issued its statement in response
to a fact sheet for the non-governmental group The Israel Project on the
The Israel Project stated, “The barrier in the Beit Jala area
was constructed on Church lands, based on an explicit agreement reached between
Israel and the Vatican.
“The route of the barrier in this segment was
constructed at the request of the Vatican, and with consent (at that time) with
local priests, in a way that leaves the Cremisan Monastery, along with most of
its lands, on the Israeli side of the fence,” it said.
This statement is
not true, a spokesman for the Catholic Ordinaries said.
Ministry and the Defense Ministry have yet to comment on the issue.
Israel Project said it received its information from a former colonel in the
IDF’s Central Command, Danny Tirza, who was in charge of designing the route of
the entire barrier in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel is building the
barrier to prevent suicide bombings.
Tirza said that he had personally
gone to the Vatican to negotiate the details of the agreement while he was in
Israel cannot use church land without its agreement unless there
are security issues involved, Tirza said.
In this case, the church
allowed Israel to use its land in places where it wanted the property to remain
on the Israeli side of the barrier. This included in the Cremisan Valley and a
monastery for the Emmanuel sisters near Bethlehem.
The only way to honor
that request was to use church land for the barrier, Tirza said.
tried to put all their land on one side and to take the minimum land that is
needed,” he said.
“I met with the deputy of the secretary of state of the
Vatican. I showed him all the planes and he signed on some of the planes,” said
Most of the fence in that area is inside the municipal area of
Jerusalem, Tirza said.
Once the route leaves Jerusalem, it enters the
Cremisan Valley, he added.
The church leaders said in their press
statement that plans for further building of the barrier affect the Al-Walaja
village and 58 Christian families from Beit Jala, whose depend on that land for
their livelihood. It also impacts two local Salesian congregations located there
as well as a school with 450 children.
If the barrier is construction the
church leaders said, “the local community will lose one of its last big
agricultural and recreational areas as well as a crucial water sources for
The Tel Aviv Magistrates Court is in the midst of hearing a case
against the barrier in that area that was filed by the St. Yves Society, the
Catholic Center for Human Rights.