CCCB asks Minister John Baird to intervene on Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem

The Honourable John Baird
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2

Dear Minister Baird,

As President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), I write to express our concerns about the security wall in the Cremisan Valley which will cut off some 58 Christian families from their agricultural land and some 400 impoverished children from their school. Our concerns are fully shared by Bishops from Europe, South Africa and the United States, as you will see from the attached statement issued today by the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. I participated in this year’s meeting of the Holy Land Coordination, and was able to visit with families from Beit Jala who will be affected. Similarly, my predecessor as CCCB President, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, visited the Cremisan Valley last year as part of the 2013 meeting of the Holy Land Coordination, and it too reached the same conclusions.

This matter is now of urgency, not only because of the humanitarian situation threatening the Beit Jala families who are involved, but also because the Supreme Court of Israel will be holding hearings on this question, beginning January 29.

The Cremisan Valley lies in the West Bank on the Palestinian side of the Green Line adjacent to the towns of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The State of Israel plans to re-route the separation barrier through the Cremisan Valley. The barrier will harm those families whose livelihoods depend on these lands, and will cut off other families from their agricultural and recreational lands and water sources. Should the barrier be built as proposed, it will also be virtually impossible for the Salesian Sisters there to fulfill their mission of service to the local community. The Sisters run a school that educates 400 poor children and provides much needed employment in its school and in the tilling of soil and harvesting of its produce. Indeed, the convent will be in a military zone surrounded on three sides by towers, walls and wires and patrolled by armed soldiers. This zone will confiscate most of the convent’s property.

From a solely religious perspective, the proposed wall will also prevent the traditional religious May procession from Cremisan to Beit Jala, and prevent the centuries-old Christmas procession beginning at the Monastery of Mar Elias. The barrier will separate the Salesian monastery for male religious from the convent for women religious, as well as separate both houses from their lands. Moreover, the monastery will be cut off from Bethlehem, and its religious community will be unable to employ local Palestinians to care for its property and its vineyards, and in particular to run the monastery winery. Furthermore, it will prevent a vital source of revenue in the sale of olive oil, wine and other produce to tourists and pilgrims.

Consistent with the Holy See’s position, Canada’s Catholic Bishops are aware of Israel’s need for security, and we fully support that right. Nevertheless, we believe the wall as planned will only deepen the wounds between Palestinians and Israelis. We are convinced, with our brother Bishops from around the world, that the extension of the wall will raise more scepticism from the international community. As it is, the security wall is already perceived by many as an illegal “land grab”.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land has also condemned the planned route of the wall in the Cremisan Valley. Their October 23, 2012, new release stated: “The planned construction of the wall will put more pressure on the remaining Christians living in Bethlehem. Without an income and a future for their children, more people will make the decision to leave the Holy Land.”

On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, we ask your government to raise our objections about the extension of the security wall in the Cremisan Valley, with the hope that a change to the present Israeli plan could become one step forward toward making it possible for Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and justice. I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this concern, as well as other issues regarding the Holy Land.

Sincerely yours,

The Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau and
President of the Canadian Conference
of Catholic Bishops

c.c.: His Excellency Rafael Barak, Ambassador of Israel to Canada
Her Excellency Vivian Bercovici, Canadian Ambassador to Israel
His Excellency Andrew Bennett, Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom

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