Israel considers appeals against West Bank barrier

Will the church influence the court's decision?

JERUSALEM - Israel's top court was considering two Palestinian appeals Wednesday against the planned route of the West Bank security barrier, which locals say will cut villagers off from their land.
During the morning, the Supreme Court heard a case lodged by residents of Beit Jala, southwest of Jerusalem, where the barrier threatens to separate them from their olive groves and divide the local Christian community.
Locals say that if the defence ministry insists on building through the middle of the Cremisan Valley, it would split the Roman Catholic Salesian order by leaving the monastery on the Israeli side and the convent in Palestinian territory.
The order runs the Cremisan valley's famous vineyards, which provide wine to churches throughout the Holy Land.
But there was no ruling expected on Wednesday over the route of the barrier, a tangle of barbed wire and, in places, an eight metre-high (25-foot) concrete wall.
"I don't expect any decision today; it could take a month," said Yusra al-Arja, a 75-year-old woman from the Cremisan Valley, one of 20 locals who attended the hearing.
Father Ibrahim al-Shomali, parish priest of Beit Jala's Catholic church, said "we have little hope, but with diplomatic pressure and a strong local church presence we might be able to influence the court's decision."
Supreme Court justices sitting as the High Court, began hearing later Wednesday an appeal lodged by the residents of Battir, another village in the same area, who say the barrier will destroy an ancient irrigation system that they rely on to grow produce.
The petition on behalf of Battir, which is seeking recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was presented by Friends of the Earth Middle East and supported by Israel's own Nature and Parks Authority.
The barrier, whose construction began in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian uprising, stretches some 440 kilometres (273 miles) -- most of it inside the occupied West Bank. The defence ministry insists it is essential for Israeli security.
Only 15 percent of is built along the Green Line, which is recognised by the international community as the border of Israel proper, UN figures show, with most of it jutting into the West Bank.