Bethlehem and the occupation

In 2002 Israel started to build the nine meter high “Apartheid Wall”. Unfortunately it’s not only built on Israeli land, but also on Palistinian land. The reason for this is to protect the Israeli settlements that are – illegally – built on occupied Palestinian territory. As a consequence the Wall annexed large parts of the West Bank.  

In Bethlehem (other than in Jenin) the occupation certainly does not go unnoticed for foreigners like me. Two aspects are essential in a profile of the occupation in Bethlehem: the Apartheid Wall and the settlements.

Bethlehem is built on a hill so from many points in the city you can see parts of the Wall. It’s like a long poisonous snake that fell down on the area. At some places it even fell on the city: in the northern part of the city there’s an important historical site, called “Rachel’s tomb”, the burial site of the biblical figure Rachel. It used to be a holy place for Christians, Jews and Muslims. When the Wall was constructed the Israeli’s decided to annex Rachel’s Tomb and in order to do that the Wall had to make a few impossible curves. As a consequence numerous shopkeepers in the area found the Wall right in front of their shops from one day into the other. This forced them to close their shops which led to the loss of their income.  I have uploaded a few photos to give an impression about the Wall in the Tomb-area.

The consequences of the Wall go further than closure of shops. Many houses had to be demolished and playgrounds disappeared to make space for the Wall. The Wall also runs across Palestinian acres and through olive yards depriving the Palestinian owners access to their lands. The Israelis defend the route of the Wall by reasons of safety: the Wall should refrain Palestinian fighters from entering Israeli territory. But keeping unwanted persons out of Israel could also be achieved by building the Wall strictly on Israeli soil. The International Court of Justice in The Hague came to this conclusion in 2004 already. It decided that the construction of the Wall as such is not the problem, the problem is that it’s built on other people’s land.

 On top of the hill an Israeli settlement. On the slope Palestinian olive trees, which can not be reached because of the Wall (in the foreground). Protection and safety would make a Wall directly around the settlement more logical.

The reason for the present route of the Wall can only be to discourage the Palestinians and to disrupt the establishment of a viable Palestinian society. The safety that the Israelis claim to pursue seems to be nothing more than a side effect rather than the main reason to build the Wall.

There are gates in the Wall however, so why don’t Palestinians  just pass through those gates? Because it’s easy for tourists to do so, but Palestinians need special permission to pass through and they have to go through lots of trouble (waiting for days or weeks, being sent back and forth, etc.) to get a permission. The impossibility to go to Israel on a daily basis also led to the loss of jobs.

And as if the effect of the Wall on daily Palestinian life isn’t bad enough, Bethlehem is also facing the threat of expanding settlements around the city. I used to think that the settlements couldn’t be that bad: does it really matter when some Israelis live on top of a hill? But when you are standing in Bethlehem and when you look at the horizon you’ll see the full scope of the Israeli settlement policy. It’s not just one settlement, but many and they form a sort of chain that cuts through Palestinian land. This is not all, because these settlements are all interconnected by “bypass” roads. These bypass roads cover the West bank like a net and they are only accessible to Israelis. And of course, the settlements and bypass-roads need to be protected against Palestinians and this protection is guaranteed by Israeli soldiers and  checkpoints. The effect of the network of settlements, bypass-roads and checkpoints is in fact not any less than the effect of the Wall of Separation.

 (Settlements closing in on Bethlehem.)

It’s all so obvious when one observes these instruments of occupation in Bethlehem and that why it’s so amazing that western media fail to interpret these instruments time and time again.

Many Palestinians had to leave their country because it was impossible to make a living in a society that’s so affected by the occupation. The ones that do stay find themselves in a society that’s hardly viable and in which unemployment is exceedingly high. No wonder many Palestinians come to the conclusion that  the Wall, the checkpoints, the settlements, the bypass roads and the system of permission are instruments of “silent ethnic cleansing”. And I cannot put forward any argument against that conclusion.

 (picture 4: Palestinians also live outside the green areas in the West Bank, but those areas are not under full Palestinian control.)

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