This Way Up

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Our Lady of Sorrows
A Catholic-run nursing home primarily serving elderly Palestinians of various faiths, Our Lady of Sorrows was founded in east Jerusalem in 1955. The facility has space for about 50 residents, including many who are poor and disabled. Few of the residents' families are able to pay for their care; the facility is run by a small group of nuns, a staff of 18, whose work provides the residents with the bare necessities. The majority of residents -- and staff -- come from the West Bank, and most of their families continue to live there.

The state of Israel first put up a security barrier across from Our Lady of Sorrows in 2002. The wall has made daily life more difficult for the staff and residents of the home, as anyone coming from the West Bank must go through a series of checkpoints or else must scale the wall without being detected. The access issues have also made the delivery of supplies and transportation of the home's residents to medical facilities more complicated.

» "The Wall and Its Consequences for Ordinary Citizens." AsiaNews. Feb. 9, 2004.

Israel's Security Barrier
The Israeli government began building a barrier in and around the West Bank in 2002 after a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants that began in 2000. The project has been controversial from its inception. There has even been a heated debate over what to call the barrier -- Israeli officials describe it as a fence, while critics often insist that it is a wall. The barrier, which runs more than 420 miles, is composed of different sections. Some parts, located in populated areas, consist of concrete slabs 26 feet high, with watchtowers occupied by border guards. In more isolated areas, the barrier includes multiple rows of fencing, with ditches, surveillance cameras and guards patrolling in vehicles.

When the Israeli government announced its intention to build a barrier, the project prompted outcries within Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as abroad. One point of contention was that the wall incorporated territory that had been regarded as Palestinian land before the Six-Day War in 1967. During that time, Israel seized control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. In June 2004, Israel's highest court deemed that the barrier itself was permissible, but that sections of it should be rerouted to accommodate Arab populations. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that the barrier violated international law because it was built partly on Palestinian land.

» "Guide to the West Bank Barrier." BBC News.
» Cohen, Roger. "The World: Israel's Wall; Building for Calm by Giving Up on Peace." The New York Times. July 18, 2004.
» "Country Guide: Israel." The Washington Post.
» "The World's Most Complex Borders: Israel/West Bank." Wide Angle. July 26, 2005.

Palestinian Christians
While the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, there have been Christians in the region since the founding of that faith. Their numbers are relatively small. Within Israel, about 9 percent of the members of the Palestinian population (which is about 19 percent of the country as a whole) are Christian. In the West Bank and Gaza, it is estimated that Christians comprise less than 3 percent of the population. A survey by the Palestinian Authority in 1997 counted 40,000 Christians among the 3.76 million people in the West Bank and Gaza. Christian groups have reported numbers as high as 90,000. Of those Christians, most are Catholics or Greek Orthodox, but there are small numbers of members of other denominations, including Armenian and Russian Christians.

» "Christians in the Middle East: West Bank and Gaza." BBC News. Dec. 15, 2005.
» "Christian Presence in Israel and Palestine (PDF)." Presbyterian Church (USA). March 2006.