Israeli forces use tear gas and stun grenades on Christian protesters

Patriarch Michael Sabbah led prayers before the march.Palestinian Christians Facebook Group

A rally of Christians against Israel's extension of its Separation Wall in the Bethlehem area has been broken up by Israeli forces using concussion grenades and tear gas.

The rally, which took place after Sunday mass at Cremisan, near Bethlehem, was addressed by the former head of the Latin Church in Jerusalem, Patriarch Michael Sabbah. He made an impassioned plea to the Christian world for help in the struggle against Israel's encroachment on Palestinian land.

The Patriarch said: "This is our land, and will always remain ours. They claim it's their land, but they use their soldiers, their tanks, their military occupation to force their will – and it is not their land. It is our land, and one day their forces will withdraw and the land will return back to its indigenous Palestinian owners."

The Patriarch continued: "The message to the Christian world, the international community and the Arab world is that this Holy Land is burning, dying and being destroyed, and if you really care about justice and equality, you have the obligation to stop this war, killing and destruction."

According to the International Middle East Media Centre, two church members were arrested by Israeli authorities, while many more suffered from the effects of tear gas inhalation. The Palestinian Christians Facebook page has a photograph of a nun who it says was injured by a soldier.

The route of Israel's Separation Wall cuts through land owned by 58 Christian Palestinian families in the Cremisan Valley, close to a monastery and a convent. It will separate the West Bank city of Beit Jala from the settlement of Har Gilo and the village of Walaja. Israel has been accused of building the wall to allow further settlement expansion rather than to increase security, and the landowners say that it will have a catastrophic effect on their livelihoods.

Israel's High Court ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes. However, it reversed the decision early in July, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred metres alongside the monastery.

Bulldozers moved in last week and uprooted an ancient olive grove, destroying trees that dated back to the time of Jesus.