mardi 28 mars 2017

So far, yet so near: Palestinians in Chile defend their homeland

Si loin, et pourtant si près: les Palestiniens au Chili défendent leur patrie
Lawyers for the Chilean Palestinian Federation have used universal jurisdiction to file a case against Israeli judges
The Cremisan valley in the occupied West Bank 
(Photo courtesy of the Palestinian Federation of Chile)

SANTIAGO - Though the Palestinian Club in Santiago de Chile is around 14,000 kilometres away from the West Bank, the plight of the Palestinian people is far from a distant memory for the Chilean Palestinian community using its complex of sports facilities, recreational grounds and conference rooms.

An estimated 350,000 Palestinians and their descendants live in Chile, making it the largest group of Palestinians living outside of the Arab world. Most are Christians who originally emigrated from the Bethlehem area, especially Beit Jala, the city that rises from the Cremisan Valley in the occupied West Bank.

They often remember their now-forgotten farms in the fertile area that is dotted with ancient olive trees, some from Roman times, which produce a high quality olive oil treasured all over Palestine.

The valley is also one of the last green spaces in the region offering a respite from urban life; and a Catholic monastery with a nearby vineyard and convent that hosts a school for children is central to citizens. More than 15,000 people who are predominantly Christian have lived peacefully in this municipality for generations.

According to Israeli rights group B'Tselem, the area west of the separation wall is among the most fertile in the West Bank, as it generates eight percent of overall Palestinian agricultural production.

But in 2002, the construction of Israel's separation wall started and dramatically changed the life of many residents. In 2012, 65 percent of the barrier, which is 709 kilometres long, was already built.

B’Tselem stated that 85 percent of the wall runs through Palestinian territory instead of following the Green Line, the 1967 borders. Every time a new section of the wall is erected, the problems in the Cremisan Valley unfold again. The separation barrier runs through land owned by 58 Christian Palestinian families.

Many of the affected landowners filed a lawsuit against the order and started a 10-year-long legal battle. The Society of St Yves Catholic Centre for Human Rights joined the legal proceedings as well.

European and North American bishops as well as European representatives visited the valley to oppose the plan, but neither local nor international support achieved much on the ground.

A map of the separation wall (Photo courtesy of the Palestinian Federation of Chile)

Concrete slabs and uprooting of trees

Olive groves have been uprooted and replaced with the concrete barrier that separates the West Bank city of Beit Jala from the settlement of Har Gilo and the village of Walaja. Villagers have been barred from reaching their water resources, and families have lost their livelihood, either by expropriation or isolation of the fields.

The concrete slabs are just one element of the operation. There are also trenches, barbed wire and control towers, which restricts the movement of Palestinian residents.

In the end, Israel’s Supreme Court decided to spare the monastery, the convent and their agricultural land but approved the construction of the barrier on private Palestinian land.

The Ministry of Defence is now erecting the wall with a 225-metre gap that allows residents of nearby towns and villages to access religious buildings and community services.

Last November, the Palestinian Federation of Chile sued three judges from the Israeli Supreme Court for crimes against h...

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