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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The wall

Palestinian Christians say Israel's security barrier creates a big prison

Salameh Bishara hasn't seen his farm in nearly three years. His family's land lies near Beit Jala just west of Bethlehem and south of Jerusalem.

Israeli military checkpoints prohibit him from getting to the land on which his family produced grapes, olives, almonds and apricots. Soon Israel's 24-foot high concrete security barrier will seal him off from his farm, perhaps permanently.

After three years without pruning and cultivation, Bishara suspects his farm is a "wasteland," but his deepest agitation involves what is to come.

Any day he expects the mail or a messenger will bring word that Israeli authorities have declared his property "absentee land." A law allows an Israeli court to make such a declaration and take his land — even though it's Israeli authorities who keep him from it, even though the land has been in his family for generations, and even though the land is well behind the internationally recognized "green line" that separates Israel from Palestinian territory.

"They won't let me go to my land," says Bishara, the principal of a Lutheran school in Beit Sahour, even though it's a stone's throw from his house. "If you build a security barrier, that's OK," he adds with frustration at the injustice, "but why not build it on your own land?" Bishara's story isn't unique, which accounts for the pessimism among Palestinians despite diplomatic advances between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. "There are pretty words," Bishara says, but construction of the wall continues and conditions on the ground are getting worse.


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