On Tuesday, 12th of February 2013, the final hearing for the case of the Cremisan Valley against the Separation Wall was held in front of the Special Appeals Committee in the Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv. Advocate Manal Hazzan-Abu Sinni from the Society of St. Yves on behalf of the Salesian Nuns Convent and Advocate Ghiath Nasser on behalf of the land owners gave their closing arguments in a session which lasted seven hours. This final hearing took place after a series of court sessions that started in 2006, when the plans for the construction of the wall were submitted and the military seizure orders for the Cremisan Valley lands were handed over.
The courtroom was crowed due to the importance and critical dimension of the case. Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Al-Shomali, Beit Jala’s Parish Priest, Father Ibrahim Shomali, and Beit Jala’s Mayor Dr. Nael Salman came to observe the proceedings. Several of the land owners from Beit Jala were present, accompanied by the architect of Beit Jala’s municipality.
Further representatives of the German and French Embassy, a representative from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and several organizations including UNRWA, CIDSE, Kairos Palestine and the Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem (ARIJ) as well as a number of journalists were in the audience. Since the court room was very limited in places, a number of the land owners and observers were not allowed inside.
Advocate Ghiath Nasser, who is in charge of the case for seven years, initiated the proceedings. He refuted the security claims for the current route of the wall and underlined his arguments with maps and charts provided by the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ). He emphasized on a military expert’s opinion that stated that the current route will not provide the claimed security and that building the wall on the other side of the valley adjacent to Gilo will provide better security conditions and reduce the damage to the citizens of Beit Jala.
Advocate Nasser claimed that the real motive behind building the wall in its current suggested route is to seize as much Palestinian land as possible and to connect the two settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. He reminded the committee that the Supreme Court confirmed in previous verdicts that building the wall should serve pure security purposes and cannot be used as a strategy for seizing lands and expanding settlements. For underlining this argument he quoted especially the Supreme Court verdict on the wall in Beit Surik. Adv. Nasser emphasized that the Special Appeals Committee should take this verdict into consideration, especially as the Ministry of Defense did not conduct sufficient surveys in Cremisan and did not consider the damage the wall would bring to the valley and the people. Therefore the ministry should change the route in the area and build further away where the damage to the structure of life of the Palestinian society will be less.
The court then proceeded to hear the final arguments of Advocate Manal Hazzan-Abu Sinni on behalf of the nuns. Advocate Hazzan based her arguments on international humanitarian law and human rights. She pointed out that the Salesian nuns joined the case at a late stage after they had realized that their position and the position of the convent were misrepresented in front of the court. Therefore the nuns, represented by the Society of St. Yves, decided to join the court proceedings to provide a full picture of their position and contribute to achieving justice.
Adv. Hazzan-Abu Sinni explained that the structure of life in the Cremisan Valley is unique. Building the wall will damage this structure by limiting the freedom of religion for the Christian community, affect the right to education and deprive the economic development of the Christian minority in Cremisan. The construction of the wall will isolate the people from their lands and threaten the existence of the Salesian Nuns Convent and School. Adv. Hazzan went on describing how the convent, that was established 60 years ago, and the Don Bosco School serve the local community in a very unique way and helps raising a generation that values love and respect. She pointed out that building the wall around the convent will prevent it from continuing its mission which will badly influence the Christian community in Beit Jala.
Adv. Hazzan emphasized that international human rights law protects the unique structure of religious minorities, here in particular the Convention for Economical and Social Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since Israel signed these conventions, it is bound to respect these rights. Therefore it has to refrain from building the wall in its current route and find an alternative that will protect these basic human rights.
Adv. Hazzan pointed out that building the wall around the school and having a gate next to it will put the children in danger should any confrontations and clashes occur with the army. This will also lead to gradually closing this educational institution that provides free elementary education.
Finally, Adv. Nasser and Adv. Hazzan-Abu Sinni referred to the report of Professor Judi Green, an environmental expert that handed in an expert opinion for the case, highlighting the importance of the area both historically and environmentally. Prof. Green further explained the agricultural significance of the valley and stated that building the wall on the other side of the valley, which is barren, would have much less damage.
The state attorney replied on behalf of the Ministry of Defense claiming that the wall does not create a permanent border, as the Israeli intent for the wall is only security reasons. He claimed no intentions to seize Palestinian land, and stated further that the situation of the status quo in the valley will be preserved by offering several solutions. These solutions would include building an agricultural gate which will guarantee access for the farmers to their lands, compensating the land owners for their losses and relocating any affected trees according to the wishes of their owners to reduce the damages.
The state attorney tried repeatedly to understate the importance of the Church representatives and representatives of Embassies in the court room; he even claimed that if the Vatican would be concerned, he would be present in the case representation as a party. Adv. Hazzan-Abu Sinni responded by explaining that the Vatican is a sovereign state and this committee is not the forum for a state.
The state attorney tried to shake the importance of the Salesian convent by doubting that any members of the local community use it as a place for praying. He also stated that the land owners are already now acting illegally by accessing what they claim to be their lands. These lands lay inside the State of Israel, and people need already now permits to access them. He stated that the people are unwilling to accept the fact that they need permits to access what they feel is their land.
The state attorney finally referred to building the wall around the Salesian Convent and School by saying: “The road to the school is open, and all schools are surrounded by fences, why all this fuss about the wall?!”
He added that several attacks and shootings occurred in the area during the 1980’s and during the Second Intifada. The latest incident he could quote was from 2008.
The session ended with no decision by the court, it will be issued after the committee reviewed the documents of the seven years lasting case.