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Written statement* submitted by Franciscans International (FI),
a non-governmental organization in general consultative status
* This written statement is issued, unedited, in the language(s) received from the submitting non-governmental organization(s).
Despite some hopes by the launching of the road map, in early June 2003, the construction by the Israelis of a separation wall, which does not respect the “Green Line” of 1967, is perceived as an annexation of important parts of Palestinian homeland. The wall cuts through parts of the West Bank, separating about 95, 000 Palestinians residing in 27 towns and villages from the remaining West Bank.
Its erection is widely portrayed as a security measure. However, had the wall strictly followed the Green Line, it might have been possible to confine the debate to the question whether a security wall of that kind would achieve its purpose. But when it is intended that it encroach deeply upon Palestinian territory, enclosing an estimated 7 per cent of Palestinian land, including fertile agricultural land, water resources and villages, it is difficult to resist to the conclusion that it is the case of the facto annexation in which the security situation is employed as a pretext for territorial expansion. (Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, E/CN.4/2003/20)
On 16 November 2003, Pope John Paul II, in condemning worldwide terrorism acts, stated in relation to the separation wall: “The Holy Land does not need walls, but bridges”. The United States, the European Union and several institutions have also manifested their concern at this respect and they have repeatedly launched appeals to the Israeli authorities urging them to stop the construction of the wall.
On 12 November 2003, the Heads of the Churches of Israel sent to the military authorities presiding over the construction of the wall the following message: "….Today in Israel, we are badly in need to work for building peace and security, and to fight against all kinds of violence. For that, we do not believe that the "separation fence" will be an adequate response. On the contrary, it will be a sign of hostility and a source of frustration, hatred and new troubles for all. We, the Assembly of the Heads of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, are very worried about the dramatic human effects of so called "separation fence", on the population as well as our catholic institutions in East Jerusalem and its surroundings. Humanly, socially and religiously it cannot be accepted to separate the people from their daily places of work, health care, teaching and prayer.
Also, on 15 January 2004, fifteen Bishops of Europe and the Americas, who met in Jerusalem, issued a statement of solidarity with the Churches of the Holy Land: "We have seen the devastating effects of the security wall currently being built through the land and homes of Palestinian communities. This appears to be a permanent structure, dividing families, isolating them from their farmland and their livelihoods, and even cutting off religious institutions".
"Forty per cent of agricultural areas of the West Bank are located between Jenin and Kalkilya and they have already been incorporated in the wall", denounces "Betezlem", an Israeli human rights organization. In addition, hundreds of houses have been demolished in Gaza, Hebron, Jenine and Nablus. Many Christian families of Bet Sahour, near Bethlehem, received a demolition notice for their own homes.
The separation wall around Bethlehem will also have devastating consequences for the Christian community worldwide; not least the psychological impact on daily life for those who still live in that area. The community will be isolated following the deprivation of access to land and freedom of movement. Visits of pilgrims will be further discouraged.
Heavy cement platforms block the road towards the Arab town of Abu Dis and cut in two parts the old town of Bethania. The army buldozers have penetrated the fence of a Catholic convent and destroyed the olive trees of another one. The wall will also surround another religious house in the same area impeding its access from one side of the territories. All these acts flagrantly violate the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (which was signed on 30 December 1993, and which entered into force on 10 March 1994) regarding the respect of the properties belonging to the Church. Wherever the wall invades the grounds of Catholic institutions there is violation of Article 10 § 1 of the Agreement in which Israel recognizes the Catholic Church's right to (its) property. Likewise there is incompatibility with Article 10 § 2, which establishes that disputes concerning property should be negotiated and settled within the framework of negotiation between the High Contracting Parties, excluding (Art. 10 § 2.d) unilateral actions. There is also violation of Art. 4 § 3, to the extent that the Catholic properties being invaded are places of worship, convents or ot her sacred places in the meaning of the Article.”
Since the last weeks, passangers landing in Ben Gurion Tel Aviv airport receive the following communication: "Welcome to the State of Israel – Information on entry into territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority. 1) "We would like to bring to your attention, that entry into the territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria (Area A), is forbidden without the attainment of prior written authorization. 2) Entry into the aforementioned territories without prior authorization may result in legal measures taken against you, including deportation and refusal of future re-entry into the State of Israel. …. The submission of a request to authorize entry into the above mentioned areas does not constitute permission to do so, until written authorization has been received".
These provisions highlight a clear political will to forbid any eye-witness to know and let other people know what happens beyond the wall and in the occupied territories in order to isolate even more the Palestinians.
Franciscans International, in cooperation with the Franciscan Justice and Peace Commission of the Custody of the Holy Land, would like to urge the Israeli government:
1. To end the occupation which is cause of violence and fear and to immediately and totally end the setting up of settlements on confiscated Palestinian land;
2. To refrain from pursuing the erection of a separation or security wall between Israel and the Occupied territory, the long-lasting effects of which are not compatible with just and sustainable peace;
3. To lift local curfews, road closures and checkpoints and allow free access to schools, hospitals and places of work;
4. To stop its policy of the destruction of houses and property, and its policies concerning Jewish settlements and the confiscation of large portions of Palestinian land, ruining their territorial integrity;
5. To fully implement the Agreement signed with the Holy See concerning the respect of the properties belonging to the Catholic Church;
6. To fully implement the recommendations of all United Nations bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights, the Committee against Torture and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.