Vatican denies deal with Israel on security barrier

Local church leaders deny report IDF planning to build fence on its land in Cremisan Valley so that it could remain on Israeli territory.

West Bank security fence 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 barrier there.
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 press.
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 barrier.
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.
The Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry have yet to comment on the issue.
The 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 the IDF.
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.
“So we 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 Tirza.
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 farmers.
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.