U.S. bishop says Palestinians in Cremisan Valley 'have lost hope'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT JALLA, West Bank (CNS) — A
U.S. bishop visiting the Holy Land for the second year in a row said
Palestinians whose land has been divided by the Israeli separation barrier
“have lost hope.”

“It was very sad to see the
present situation where individuals have their lands confiscated and trees
uprooted,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico. “This
is a sign of something much larger. It seems to be a diminishing of the rights
of Palestinians to be there and a lack of acknowledgment of their legitimate
right to be present whether in the state of Israel or in Palestinian lands.”

Bishop Cantu and 12 bishops from
Europe, South Africa and North America visited the Cremisan Valley Jan. 10 as
part of the Holy Land Coordination, in which they come to show solidarity with
Palestinian Christians.

More than 55 Christian families
had their land confiscated by Israelis in this agricultural valley adjacent to
the village of Beit Jalla to make room for the Israeli separation
barrier, despite years of legal attempts to have the route of the barrier
moved. The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security
roads snaking across part of the valley.

Meeting with Cremisan Valley
landowner Nahleh Abu Eid, 76, who had 15 trees uprooted and lost free access to
his remaining agricultural land, helped the bishops remember the situation was
not “simply politics” but about “people’s lives and about their
dignity,” said Bishop Cantu.

“They had held out hope the
land would be saved,” he said. “Getting their hopes up (only to have
them broken) does no good.”

Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestinian
Authority spokesman and Nahleh Abu Eid’s nephew, told the group that the same young
people who, last year, had been attending Mass every Friday to bring attention
to their plight were now throwing rocks the Israeli checkpoint.

“They have lost hope,”
said Bishop Cantu.

The elder Abu Eid told the
bishops their visit was a sign that they were sharing in the difficult
situation of the Palestinians.

During the visit to the site
where construction has started and a smoothened dirt road cuts through a wide
swatch of the land where olive trees used to stand, border police arrived.
After initially requesting that the bishops leave, they waited as the bishops
received a briefing from lawyer Raffoul Rofa
of the Society of St. Yves Catholic Center for Human Rights. Rofa explained
that, in theory, the landowners are to be allowed to reach their land to
harvest their olives through a series of gates, but past experience has shown
that such a system rarely works as it should and usually, in practice, the
farmers are unable to gain access to the trees or to harvest as they normally

As they left, some visitors spoke with the border police, one of whom asked to be photographed
with the bishops. South African Bishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town was the
only one who agreed to the photo.

“Coming from apartheid
South Africa I realize … that the people involved were not bad people, they
were caught up in a particular situation and they didn’t question and didn’t
know what was going on,” he said. “Therefore, I don’t see these two
soldiers as bad people, but they are part of a system and they don’t understand
the injustice and oppression being caused.”

At a Mass at the Beit Jalla’s
Annunciation Parish, concelebrated with Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the
patriarch told the parishioners the bishops’ visit was significant not only
because the Holy Land Coordination has been coming in a show of support for the
local community since 1998, but also because of the important work of advocacy
they do when they go back to their countries.

“They are the voice of the
local Christians and express our fears for the future,” said Patriarch Twal.
Their message, he said, was one of “prayer and pilgrimage.”

“Military strength cannot
give us the peace. The most important thing is the prayers. The world seems not
to be listening, but we continue our prayers, and that is a very important
message. With your faith, with your prayers we can make a difference, we can
make a change.”

After greeting the parishioners
as a Scout marching band regaled the bishops with bagpipes and drums, Bishop Cantu
noted the importance of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, especially during
difficult times.

“The violence has not hurt
tourists and pilgrims. There are skirmishes here and there, but generally
pilgrimages are very safe. It is most important to come on pilgrimage to
support the Christian community here when tourists are staying away,” he

“Christians are effectively
being squeezed out and understandably at any opportunity they can, they (leave)
… because of the checkpoints, their inability to reach their jobs so they can
make a living, in Gaza they can’t get out to visit family,” he added. “Our
job is to encourage them to stay here if they can and to advocate for them
politically so they have the space and energy to work and live in peace and

Among the other bishops who took
part in the Holy Land Coordination were Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England;
Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England; Bishop Lionel Gendron of St. Jean-Longueuil, Quebec; Bishop
John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland; and Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland.

After two days of visits in the West
Bank, the bishops left Jan. 10 for Jordan, where they were to meet and
celebrate Mass with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article