The last weekly open-air Mass was held at Beit Jala near Bethlehem, on Friday in an area threatened by Israel's Separation Wall, as locals awaited a court decision on an appeal to halt the land seizure.
Around 60 Palestinians, internationals and representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches gathered on an olive tree-covered hilltop in the Cremisan Valley to pray for a halt to the massive concrete wall, which is set to annex the entire lush green area north of Beit Jala.
The weekly Mass, which has been held since 2011, is the last action by the largely Christian community before Israel's Supreme Court issues a final ruling on 29 January regarding the route of the wall.
Fr Ibrahim Shomali, a Catholic priest who celebrated the Mass, thanked everyone for their support over the years and said it was now up to the Israeli court to decide on the "future of our presence in the Holy Land."
Issa Kassissieh, Palestine's ambassador to the Vatican, which owns the land threatened with confiscation, told Ma'an news agency that the seizure was unacceptable. He said: "The Pope is coming as a peace pilgrimage to the Holy Land to build bridges and here we are seeing that a wall is being erected. This is a way of exodus. This is a way of pushing people out and there is no legitimate grounds for this confiscation by the Israelis, so we hope that the power of logic will prevail and not the logic of power."
Israel is constructing some of the last segments of its wall on lands west of Bethlehem, including the Cremisan monastery area, and al-Walaja village. In 2006, Israel issued a military order to build the separation wall around Beit Jala and Har Gilo.
After a seven-year legal battle, 58 local landowners, and nuns from the Salesian convent who joined their legal action, lost an appeal against the route of the separation wall in April 2013.
To read more see:
ICN 1 May 2013 Petition in support of Sisters in Cremisan Valley http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=22450
and ICN 15 May 2013 International bishops committee 'dismayed' at Israeli plan to build Separation Wall in Cremisan Valley http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=22551