Israel orders demolition of Christian homes

 The Israeli government has ordered the demolition of 100 homes built by the Greek Orthodox community in Beit Sahour (home of the Biblical Shepherd's Fields) a predominantly Christian village next to Bethlehem. They claim it was built too close to the Jabal Abu Ghaniem (Har Homa) illegal settlement block- a settlement built on land originally confiscated from the Beit Sahour Orthodox community. The Mayor of Beit Sahour, Fuad Kokaly, sent this this urgent appeal on Saturday: Israel has ordered the demolition of over 100 houses and apartments located at Jabal Al Diek (Beit Sahour) - adjacent to the illegal settlement built on Jabal Abu Gnaim (Har Homa). Most of the houses are part of the Greek Orthodox Community Housing Project. Over 600 people will be made homeless. The land in question is owned by the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem and an agreement was signed between them and the head of the Greek Orthodox community in Beit Sahour, Fr Ibrahim Khoury. This agreement runs for 50 years and the terms state clearly that it is automatically renewable with the same conditions when it expires. The land area is 20 dunams (1 dunam = 1/4 acre) and the agreement stipulates that it is to be used explicitly for the construction of homes. On 28 September, 1995, Beit Sahour Municipality issued building permits under the authority of the Beit Sahour Municipal Urban Planning Committee. * The Greek Orthodox Housing Project was established in 1996 and comprises 15 buildings, each having four stories with two apartments on each floor. These apartments will house 120 families. As of today, seven buildings have been completed and are home to 23 families. One more is under construction and the remaining seven are yet to be built. Conditions of membership apply and one needs to be married, a resident of Beit Sahour, of limited income and not own a house to be eligible. In March and April, the city of Beit Sahour, along with other Palestinians cities and refugee camps, were under total Israeli invasion and siege. On 29 May, the Israeli army served papers on each homeowner in the project which notified them that their homes are scheduled for demolition and that they should cease building work immediately. There are three reasons stated for this action being taken: 1) That the homes are in close proximity to Har Homa (the illegal settlement built on land confiscated from Beit Sahour in 1995) 2) That the new Israelis-only road which is being constructed passes too close to the homes. 3) The homes are located in an area declared as C under Oslo II. This agreement states that building permits for new homes should only be issued from Beit El (Israeli authority) although the land itself is within the boundary of the Municipal Council of Beit Sahour. The families have engaged a lawyer to act on their behalf collectively. Objections were filed in court and the first hearing was held on 25 June. At this hearing the judge declared the case adjourned and set a new date for 25 July. This case was again adjourned. Even using the legal system has proved difficult due to the restrictions of movement imposed upon Palestinians. An international volunteer working at the Municipality has been going to and from Jerusalem to deliver the necessary documents and papers. Although foreign, she too is subject to arbitrary searches and abusive practices by soldiers at the checkpoints. On 17 September, 2002 the Israeli Authority from Beit El issued the order to demolish over 100 homes. On 29 September 2002 the case was submitted to the Israeli Military Court for Urban Planning in the West Bank. Documents of ownership of both the land and houses were presented, we are waiting for the decision. Having witnessed so much land already confiscated in this area and having made numerous attempts to prevent the Israelis from taking our property through the legal channels, we are not hopeful. Although we are given leave to appeal against these decisions, we never win. This is indicative of all cases between Israel and Palestinians. The community of Beit Sahour is a strong community and well known for its unity during times of trouble. We have arranged solidarity meetings at the location of the project and formed committees to follow up on this issue. Two solidarity demonstrations have been held where many citizens of Beit Sahour joined the families who have put so much hard work and money into building theses homes. We do not wish see their efforts reduced to rubble nor do we want to see the continued plunder of our land. In addition, we have appealed to all consulates and embassies to ask for their solidarity and support to prevent this threatened destruction becoming a reality.

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