Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades on Sunday to disperse a protest in a Palestinian Christian town near Bethlehem against renewed work on Israel’s West Bank security fence.
Dozens of Palestinian and foreign protesters marched in the West Bank village of Beit Jala towards an area where military bulldozers have uprooted olive trees to clear space for the barrier.
Two protesters were arrested for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers guarding the construction zone, police said.
The former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, denounced the work that began earlier this month.
“This land belongs to us,” he said. “Whatever they do, whatever their courts say, this land belongs to us and it will return to us one day. You are stronger with your guns, but you are not the strongest when it comes to humanity.”
Israel began building the barrier of walls and fences inside the West Bank in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, saying it was crucial for security in the face of a wave of deadly suicide bombings in its cities.
The Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing part of their future state and call it the “apartheid wall.”
UN figures show that around two-thirds of the barrier has been built.
The fence will extend 712 kilometers (442 miles) when finished, separating the West Bank from Israel, a majority of its length running through Palestinian land.
According to the UN, it will cut off more than nine percent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; in places, it will separate farmers from their fields or villagers from water sources.
Where it approaches Beit Jala and the adjacent Cremisan Valley, there has been fierce opposition from the local Palestinian Christian community, which has enlisted papal support.
The case captured special attention when the wall was slated to separate the Cremisan monastery from the neighboring convent and vineyards.
The High Court of Justice ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes.
But in a new decision on July 6, the court said work could go ahead, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred meters (yards) alongside the monastery and the convent.