Holy Land: partition wall threatens pilgrim route

 Story researched by Danny Francis As Israel's partition wall continues to grow, dividing Palestinian homes and property and cutting off communities and services, Al Jazeera reported this week that several pilgrim sites are now also under threat. Israeli bulldozers have finished their work at the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and moved to the very heart of the Holy City: the Mount of Olives. There demolition crews have begun scarring the eastern slopes of the mountain and uprooting hundreds of ancient olive trees. There is also much activity concentrated at the village of Bait Fagi, which at this time of year is the focus of global Christian attention. It is said that Jesus stopped at Bait Fagi to ask for food on his way to Jerusalem. All that could be found, was the unripe fruit of palm trees, from which Bait Fagi derives its name: the Place of the Unripe Dates. More famously, the Gospels record, Jesus was also brought a donkey here, which he mounted and rode into the Holy City, his way set out for him on a carpet of palm leaves. For centuries, on Palm Sunday, a procession has been held on the Mount of Olives, following in Jesus's footsteps from Bethany, now the modern Palestinian village of Aizariya, to Bait Fagi, where two neighbouring chapels - one Roman Catholic, the other Greek Orthodox - lay rival claim to be built over the rock where Jesus mounted the donkey. Yesterday's procession was most likely the last. Next year the route will almost certainly be impassable. Even this year the pilgrims, carrying palm and olive branches, were greeted at Bait Fagi by a section of wall comprising eight metre high concrete slabs obstructing their way to the two chapels. Although the wall on the Mount of Olives will be shielded from the view of most tourists to Jerusalem, it will be only a few hundred metres from the Old City and some of the sites holiest to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall and al-Aqsa mosque. Al Jazeera reports that at Bait Fagi, around 40 homes were saved from demolition after the intervention of the Greek Orthodox Church, which offered up a section of its grounds for the building of the wall. The agency says that as a result, the families will now be stuck on the wrong side of the barrier: despite paying taxes to the Jerusalem municipality, they will soon find it almost impossible to access the city or benefit from its services. Fahdi Hamad, 28, has been on the ancient path taken by Jesus from his home in Aizariya to Bait Fagi for the past four years. He works as the gatekeeper at the Catholic chapel in Bait Fagi. He admits his days there are numbered. "The wall will soon be finished and there will be no way I can reach the church. No one seems to care," he said. Enham Shama, a caretaker at the neighbouring Greek Orthodox convent, says she was shocked to think that this Palm Sunday procession would probably be the last. "I can't help but ask myself, what would Jesus do faced with a wall like this?"

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