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Court gives Israel deadline to justify route of barrier near Beit Jalla
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — A Feb. 3 Israeli court ruling has raised hopes that Israel will need to find an alternative route for the continuation of the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley next to the West Bank city of Beit Jalla.

After deliberation following a hearing Jan. 29, the Supreme Court gave the state attorney until April 10 to justify why the route for the barrier should not be altered.

The Supreme Court set a new hearing for July 30 to discuss the requested answer from the state and the responses of the people of Cremisan. Until the state responds, all work on the barrier must be stopped.

If built as currently planned, the barrier would cut through Palestinian-owned land, separating families from their agricultural land as well as separating the Salesian Sisters from the community they serve in their school. The schoolchildren would be forced to go through a military-like checkpoint gate to reach their schools if the wall is built.

It also would separate the women religious from the Salesian community of male religious and would separate both communities from their lands.

"The case is not over until a final ruling is given. The court's decision is an indication that it is not inclined to adopt the state's position. We definitely have new hope -- the answer of the court is a good sign," said Zvi Avni, a lawyer from the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights center that is representing the Salesian Sisters and school.

In the Supreme Court hearing Jan. 29, the Israeli Council for Peace and Security, an association of high- ranking Israeli security personnel, presented an expert opinion holding that an alternative route below Har Gilo, which Palestinians consider as an illegal settlement but Israel calls a Jerusalem neighborhood, would cause much less harm for the Cremisan community while at the same time better serving Israeli security needs.

"Of course, any day the wall is not constructed is a good day," St. Yves advocacy officer Anica Heinlein said in a statement. "It looks promising that the court will decide for the people of Cremisan and the convent."

It appears that the court would not be satisfied with the moving of the barrier only a few meters, she added, noting the weight given to the testimony by the Israeli Council for Peace and Security.

Heinlein noted that the court date for the state attorney's response has been pushed back until after Pope Francis' planned visit at the end of May, giving the opponents of the wall more time to raise pressure against the barrier's current route.

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