Several Palestinians, Sunday, suffocated as Israeli army forces violently quelled a peaceful rally to protest the Israeli illegal expropriation of Beit Jala lands for the purpose of expanding construction of the apartheid wall.Christian and Muslim religious high ranking figures, locals, and activists participated in the rally, which took place at the seized land recently leveled by Israeli forces to resume the construction of the wall. Protesters raised Palestine’s flag atop of olive trees and chanted national slogans.

According to WAFA correspondence, Israeli soldiers attacked the rally, firing tear gas canisters and stun grenades in the direction of the protestors, causing many to suffocate. They were all treated at the scene. Protesters removed the metal gate erected by the Israeli soldiers at the entrance of Wadi Ahmad area to prevent locals from reaching their land.

Meanwhile, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah (Theodosios) Hanna, who also participated in the rally, said Muslims and Christians are present as one nation with no sectarian differences to defend Palestinians’ just cause.

‘We will remain steadfast on our land,’ he confirmed.

He said the Israeli occupation uproots olive trees, because it doesn’t believe in peace. He said Palestinians will not give up on their loyalty to the Palestinian identity.

Regarding the Israeli court’s decision to resume construction of the separation wall, Hanna stressed: ‘We don’t recognize Israeli courts, and we shall resume our struggle against Israel’s theft of Palestinian-owned land.’

According to the Guardian, “The wall will separate the West Bank city of Beit Jala from the settlement of Har Gilo and the village of Walaja. Critics claim its real purpose is not to increase security, but to allow settlement expansion.”

“The wall has been opposed by local Christian leaders and the Vatican. In April it appeared that its construction had been blocked when Israel’s high court ordered the defense ministry to reconsider the route. But a subsequent ruling in July gave it the green light,” it said.

According to media sources, the plan would ‘completely enclose Bethlehem and the surrounding villages — closing all entrances to the area — by the separation wall.’

“The role of the wall here is very simple: to cut off Beit Jala from Wadi Ahmad, an agricultural area of 3,500,000 square meters with thousands of olive trees,” Mazen Qumsiyeh, a veteran Palestinian activist, told +972.

“Building this part will complete the ghettoization of Bethlehem. The route has nothing to do with security — the entire goal is to annex the valley.”

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights center, “85% of the barrier’s planned route runs through the West Bank, mainly in areas where there are Israeli settlements and industrial zones.”

“By July 2012, construction of the barrier was 62% complete. It left some 3% of the West Bank territory cut off, west of the barrier. Completed as planned, the barrier will isolate an additional area of more than 6% of West Bank lands on the Israeli side,” added the center.

“Construction of the barrier in the West Bank gravely violates the rights of Palestinians in the areas affected, restricting their access to their lands, crucial services and relatives on the other side of the barrier. The barrier also prevents any possibility of economic development,” stated B’Tselem.

Search IMEMC: ‘Beit Jala’