03/15/2005, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Rosary for peace, against wall, says a Bethlehem nun

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – The Elizabethan Sisters working at Bethlehem's Baby Caritas Hospital and local Christians have been praying the rosary in front of Israel's wall every Thursday. By their example, they hope to encourage peace between Israelis and Palestinians and at the same time express their opposition to wall.

Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today unveiled the final route of the 'security barrier' whose construction he ordered more than a year ago to stop Palestinians from launching terrorist attacks into Israel itself. Palestinians oppose this 'barrier' because it annexes their land and makes their daily movement that more difficult.

Around Bethlehem wall construction is near completion. It includes the check-point between Bethlehem itself and Jerusalem, the Jewish settlement of Ghilo, Rachel's Tomb, and stands at only 200 metres from the Baby Caritas Catholic hospital.

Further north, the wall extends eastward to encompass the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim.

"Since June of last year we meet every week at the wall to pray the rosary that peace may come between the two peoples and to say no to the wall," said Sister Ileana Benetello, who has been in the Holy Land for 23 years.

"In the beginning the soldiers gave us a hard time. They would turn the floodlights on us and keep us under their watchful eye. But now they don't bother us any more".

Near Bethlehem, the wall has taken in several olive groves owned by Christian Armenian families. It is unclear whether the Israelis have simply confiscated the land or expropriated it with compensation for the owners.

Sister Ileana explained that "the wall is almost completed with two openings, one for people to cross, the other for cargo and customs."

The Italian nun noted that the number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Places has been rising recently. She has said that Israel has also been issuing more work permits to Palestinians, "however, the situation remains very difficult".

For many Palestinians in Bethlehem, the wall has also created an additional moral dilemma. "To make a living, many Palestinians accept to work on the wall construction," Sister Ileana said.

"I am not sure they all realise in what contradiction they are putting themselves. It is something abominable that cannot go on. They are building their own prison," she added. (LF)

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