Displaced Palestinians face ‘tragic situation’
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster petitions Foreign Secretary William Hague over plight of those impacted by Israeli security barrier in Beit Jala
The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged William Hague, the foreign secretary, to address the ‘tragic situation’ facing Palestinians displaced by the building of the Israeli security barrier in Beit Jala, a predominantly Christian town a little over a mile from the Church of the Nativity.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said that the ‘expropriation’ of land by Israel had a ‘catastrophic impact’ on the village and risked furthering the conflict. Much of the land has been owned by religious orders and Catholic families for more than 200 years.
The Archbishop of Westminster told Mr Hague he had made an eight-day pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian territories, including two days in Bethlehem.
“While we were there, we visited the parish of the Annunciation in Beit Jala,” he said in a letter to Mr Hague, which was sent in November and has been recently released under the Freedom of Information Act.
“There we learned of the crisis that has engulfed the parish, due to a recent announcement of annexations of land for the building of a further section of the ‘separation/security wall’ by the Israeli authorities.
“It is my understanding that in the past few weeks, expropriation orders have been handed to 57 families in Beit Jala, removing from them their land, their means of livelihood and, in many cases, their family homes.
“This step is a continuation of a long process of expropriation of land by Israel, going far beyond the 1967 border and damaging the very viability of the two-state solution.
“I will be raising this matter directly with the Israeli ambassador but I do hope that you might be able to consider using British influence to try and persuade the Israeli authorities to reverse their declared decision in this regard. It is precisely this kind of case that will provide a basis for either a just peace or continued conflict.”
Pope Benedict XVI has described the security barrier (above, under construction) as ‘tragic,’ but Israeli diplomats have said they were ‘taken aback’ by Archbishop Nichols’ correspondence with Mr Hague and insisted the allegations were ‘unfounded.’
Mr Hague responded to Archbishop Nichols’ letter by stating that he continued to make representations to the Israeli government to ‘argue for a just outcome for all the people affected by illegal settlement construction and the confiscation of land due to the separation barrier.’