A Christian ‘Peace Week’, including meetings with leaders and visits to a refugee camp, has been disrupted by Israeli troops.
The Palestinian News Network reports that the Lutheran-run initiative in Beit Jala was obstructed by Israeli troops who prevented participants from reaching one of the event sites yesterday morning.
The participants, a contingent of 200 foreigners from different EU countries, were intercepted when attempting to travel to the village of Husan where they would be helping residents in their fields.
The nonviolent week of activities marks the anniversary of a decision in which the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that the Separation Wall was illegal and must be taken down. The Israelis did not honour the ICJ opinion and instead have continued to confiscate land for the Wall.
Beit Jala in the Bethlehem region, is one of the towns losing lands.
Hassan Abed Rabbo, a coordinator of the event, described how a collection of military police, border guards and regular troops refused to allow the guests onto Palestinian land. He added that they had been intending to plant olive trees there as a symbol of peace and solidarity.
The delegation, which is mainly from France and Germany, is attending a week of events organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Jala in cooperation with the larger Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities. Activities include meetings with religious and political figures and visits to refugee camps in the Bethlehem area, but organisers say the actions of the occupation on the first day of the programme have cast a shadow over plans.
The Rev Jadallah Shehadeh condemned the Israeli military action. "This is the biggest evidence of the arrogance and oppression of the state of Israel which tries to impose a media blackout to hide its crimes against the Palestinian people.”
The church leader added, "This prevention of access to a group of foreigners is a clear example of these Israeli policies."
Shehadeh went on to say that the goal of the events was to send a message of hope from the church to the people of Palestine and to show the wider world the suffering caused by the occupation.
One of the foreign visitors, the mayor of the German town of Jena, stressed that their presence in Palestine was a message to the international community to lift the injustices in the Middle East and combat the Wall and settlements.
The activities will continue as planned through the week, culminating in a rally in Beit Jala on Friday but organizers remain wary that they may face further opposition from the Israeli military.
Hundreds of people demonstrated yesterday afternoon against the Separation Wall in the valley on the far side of Beit Jala. Foreign and Israeli supporters of Palestine raised flags.