Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The final divide: the ghettoization of Bethlehem

Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
-Mahmud Darwish

From OpenBethlehem: The final section of Israel’s wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem will be completed in a matter of days.

The wall around Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem will not only sever the connection between the region’s most holy Christian sites, but will also herald the creation of a new ‘fact on the ground’ - an illegal Jewish settlement which will be home to some of Israel’s most extremist religious groups.

The ultra-orthodox Kever Rahel Fund announced last year that it intended to build about 400 apartments at the site. This week their work has begun. Settlers are planning to move into houses around the tomb as soon as the wall is completed.

Bethlehem’s population fears that town will become another Hebron– where Jewish extremists have expelled Palestinians from their homes and with the support of the Israeli army, intimidate and harass the local population. Hebron was once the busiest shopping town in the region, but is now a ghost town. Christian Peacemaker Teams have a permanent presence there to monitor and report abuses by the army and settlers on local people.

A former member of the Israeli parliament, Hanan Porat, was quoted today in Israeli newspaper Haaretz : "With the help of God we are progressing toward maintaining a permanent Jewish presence and a fixed yeshiva in Rachel's Tomb, as Rabbi Kook [religious Zionist fundamentalist] urged, and bringing Israelis back to where they belong."

The mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Victor Batarseh, a Palestinian Christian, said: “The recent land confiscation and works around Rachel’s Tomb are illegal and have no security basis. This is an act of land expropriation. It is a serious threat to the economic and social life of the town. As the Mayor of Bethlehem, I share the concern of all Bethlehemites, Christians and Muslims alike, that this could be the first step towards building a new illegal Israeli settlement right in the heart of Bethlehem. That is how it all started in Hebron a few years ago.”

In a statement to the international community, he says: “We call on all religious and political leaders, to intervene and protect the lawful rights of the town of the Nativity. The ghettoization of Bethlehem is not only destroying ancient communities, but is destroying the prospects of peace in the Middle East and the whole concept of international law”.

Rapid construction of the final section of the wall separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem is proceeding following the rejection by the Israeli Supreme Court of the appeal of 18 Palestinian families and the Bethlehem and Beit Jala municipalities to re-route the wall at Rachel’s Tomb. As a result, the area will now be included within the borders of Jerusalem municipality, in direct violation of the Oslo agreements. The wall was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague (9 July 2004).

The Rachel’s Tomb area, once a vibrant neighbourhood and a central artery between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, has seen 72 out of 80 businesses close in the last four years. The tomb itself, a major Bethlehem landmark and a shrine holy to three religions, is now barred to the city’s inhabitants. The neighbourhood has been devastated to accommodate the expanding military base around the tomb, confiscating family homes and businesses and carving out a major landmark from the heart of Bethlehem. The wall pushes one and a half kilometres inside the city’s boundaries and confiscates 3km2 of its land.

Leila Sansour, Chief Executive of Open Bethlehem says: “We are now racing against time. Israel has stolen our land to build a settlement. It is a disaster for us. A city of international importance may soon become history. We are calling for divestment from any international company that gives support to, or is engaged in, this illegal project. Divestment is one of the few non-violent options open to us”

From Open Bethlehem, an organization devoted to keeping the windows to the holy city of Bethlehem open despite its ghettoization by the Israeli Apartheid Wall.


Blogger Looking Forward said...

i just wanna say, that i wish all the extremism would stop, because both sides are guilty of it, and regardless of who started, we both have to stop it. i just wish we could have peace in our day.

and btw, even as a jew, accounts like this make me hurt even more at the realities of the world.

2:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laila,

You know we ususually see things eye to eye, but I have to disagree with you on a couple of things here
You write:

another Hebron– where Jewish extremists have expelled Palestinians from their homes and with the support of the Israeli army, intimidate and harass the local population.

The IDF does not intimate or harass the local population, and in fact,there have been many stand offs between the IDF and the Settlers

You go on :

Christian Peacemaker Teams have a permanent presence there to monitor and report abuses by the army and settlers on local people.

You forgot to say that these very peacekeepers fled for their lives when Palestinian armed groups rioted in Hebron before the elections - no ?

I understand you are looking at things from a Palestinian viewpoint, and as much as I am against the settlers etc, please look at both sides.

As far as I know, and I may be wrong, no Palestinian was expelled from his home, but was purchased legaly. The problem here is,that no Palestinian will admit to selling property to Israelis for fear of being called a traitor, and therefore murdered on the spot.


6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is from a B'tselem report on Hebron and the situation in area H2 (the zone where around 500 fundamentalist settlers and about 130,000 palestinians live). There is a growing trend for Palestinians to leave the area because of attacks on there businesses and homes by groups of extremist settlers. Friends of mine witnessed attacks on palestinian children on their way to school - the army did not act to protect them.
anyway... here's the report:

Among the factors leading to their leaving the area are the following:

* Palestinians in this area suffer almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city. Settlers throw stones at them, curse them, damage their property, and take over their apartments. At its worst, the violent acts resulted in the death of fourteen-year-old Nibin Jamjum. Security forces do not protect Palestinians against settler violence and almost never enforce the law against the lawbreakers. Even in cases in which the security forces anticipate settler violence, they fail to make preparations to prevent the attacks. A report prepared by Israel's Civil Administration stated that, "The image of the State of Israel is extremely bad in all matters related to law enforcement in Hebron."

* The restrictions on Palestinian movement in the city are among the harshest in the Occupied Territories. The IDF imposes curfew on Palestinian residents of H-2 both in response to violence by Palestinians and violence by settlers, and to enable settlers to hold public events. Between 2,000-2,500 shops and businesses have been closed in the area since the beginning of the current intifada. Business life in the Casbah and Bab a-Zawiya area, which constituted the commercial center of the city, has come to an almost complete standstill. The inability to move about freely and to earn a living has increased the unemployment rate and the number of people living in poverty. These restrictions also affect the ability of residents to receive medical services and for children to attend school in a normal and regular manner.

* Palestinian residents of H-2 also suffer from serious acts of violence by border policemen and IDF soldiers. Testimonies provided to B'Tselem indicate a phenomenon of routine, daily violence by security forces, including beatings, hurling of stun grenades, and theft of money and goods, sometimes by threat.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the article again, I now realize that these are not your words Laila, but those of Open Bethlehem.

Sorry about that - but I still stand by what I wrote


7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you give me a reference to the story of the Peacemakers fleeing Hebron because of Palestinian armed groups. I honestly didn't see this report. I remember in the days around the election there was reporting of the occupation of a building my militant settlers and a violent stand off between settlers (including youths invited in from out of town for the party) and the army over this


7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thursday, February 9, 2006
TIPH observers leave Hebron after riot

TIPH observers leave Hebron after riot
TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The international observer force based in
the West Bank city of Hebron left Wednesday under Israeli military
protection after Palestinian rioters attacked its headquarters.

The rioters, many of them 14 to 20 years old, stoned the headquarters of the
Temporary International Presence in Hebron, damaged cars and broke into the
building destroying property. Shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great) they were
protesting cartoons published in some European newspapers that depicted the
Prophet Mohammad.

The observers' urgent departure might signal the end of the decade old TIPH.
Its spokeswoman, Gunhild L. Forselv of Norway, told United Press
International that representatives of the six European countries that
contributed observers -- Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and
Turkey -- are to meet Thursday to discuss its future. Their capitals will
guide them, she said in a telephone interview shortly before the TIPH convoy
reached a hotel in Tel Aviv where they were going to stay.

The force was sent to Hebron to provide "a feeling of security to the
Palestinians of Hebron," help promote stability and develop the economy, the
Israeli-Palestinian agreements, renewed every six months, say. It was
initially formed after an Israeli settler, Baruh Goldstein, killed Muslim
worshippers in The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman
Mark Regev noted. Part of Hebron is under Palestinian control and part under
Israeli, through many Palestinians live also in the Israeli controlled area
near settlers.

The observers, who are usually veteran police officers, were supposed to
monitor and report events to the governments that sent them, to Israel and
the Palestinian Authority, but not enforce peace. They patrolled Hebron,
potentially one of the most violent towns in the West Bank, in their blue
uniforms and white cars armed with cameras and two-way radios, but no
weapons. Several weeks ago this reporter saw a team checking locks of closed
shops in an empty street near the settlers' Hadassah compound. A few streets
away settlers allegedly broke into stores. The goods were torched.

Palestinians have been demonstrating outside TIPH's headquarters in recent
days and the Danish observers were evacuated last week. However Wednesday
the protests became dangerous.

According to Forselv a mob of stone throwers attacked the building and drove
away the small Palestinian police contingent was supposed to guard the
building. TV footage showed rioters throwing stones at the few armed

"I am not sure exactly how many (rioters) they were because (whenever) ...
we were trying to look out of the windows to see who was there, the kids
would throw stones at the windows and break everything so we basically had
to hide in the back of our headquarters," Forselv said.

Several rioters jumped over the low gate, broke into the building, and
damaged property.

That was the decisive element that eventually led TIPH's commander, Arnstein
Oberkil of Norway, to leave the area. At that time he said their departure
was temporary.

"We can't really protect ourselves against events like the one that happened
this morning," Forselv said.

Palestinian Preventive Security men arrived after some 15 to 20 minutes,
fired in the air, and then Israel soldiers arrived.

The Israelis sent over armored jeeps that led and closed the convoy of TIPH
cars out of Hebron.

Forselv told UPI she hoped they would return to Hebron. "It's a very sad
moment for us.... I really hope we'll be able to get back as soon as
possible. Right now were not talking about that.... We'll have to wait," she

TIPH has had a difficult task in a hostile environment. In August 2001 it
pulled its regular patrols out of the Israeli controlled sector because
settlers repeatedly attacked them, its spokesman then Lars Tore Kjerland,
told UPI. Adult settlers have hurled "big stones" at TIPH cars and smashed
windshields but no one was injured, he said.

That hostility prevailed. Noam Arnon, a spokesman for Hebron's settlers
Wednesday accused the observers of being "against the Jews" and of "yielding
to Arab terror."

In March 2002 Palestinian gunmen shot and killed two observers and wounded a
third who were driving out of town.
There seemed to a good deal of skepticism as to how effective TIPH has been.

An Israeli military source told UPI the army has been "quite indifferent" to

"We've been fighting terror as we do everywhere, in every Palestinian city,"
the source said.

A well-placed Defense Ministry source said TIPH's capabilities have been
"limited from the very beginning... Their aim is not to enter conflicts, not
to get into showdowns. None of them comes here to get killed and we do not
expect them to do so....

"They're stuck between the Palestinians and the settlers and it's very
difficult to work there with all the suspicions in that area," he added.

The Foreign Ministry's Regev dodged questions on TIPH's effectiveness. "It's
not my job to give grades to the TIPH," he said.

Have their reports been effective, Regev was asked.

"I don't want to go into that," he said.

Are you sorry they are going?

"I don't want to go into that either," he repeated.

Hebron's Mayor Mustafa Natsheh told UPI he was very sorry the observers
left. They have done a good job, he maintained.

"If settles or soldiers hurt our people they come quickly and ... in case
the soldiers or settlers see the TIPH they stop harassing the people.... We
need them," Natsheh said.

However Khaled Osaily who recently resigned as Hebron's deputy mayor seemed

"People don't feel they are effective (but) .... want them to stay, at least
(so that) we'll have a witness of what is going on," he told UPI.

Their presence set a precedent for future arrangements with Israel, he
maintained. "If we will have a solution we could have observers from the
world," Osaily added.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

I can' really ad much more than the B'tselem report. There's a different betseen seeing both sides, and between simple facts.

I also don't see the relevance of the peacekeepers leaving (which by the way I understand some of them returned, or are returning). Plus-not to excuse the stoning of their office-but it was not election-related.

Its also not a matter of purchasing land-while there may have been some land purchased, it is all in the larger framework of indirect transfer of the Palestinian population-making the people's lives unbearable and economically unviable (see: Biilin) to the point where they are often left with little choice but to sell their land.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Manual Ping: "In sad breaking news from A STAND FOR JUSTICE, an Israeli sniper killed a 15-year-old Palestinian during a raid on West Bank:

Amer Bassyouni, 15, was shot in the neck and died from his wounds as Israeli forces searched for militants in the Alamin refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus."

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why the link did not appear, I hope you don't mind me posting again:


7:20 PM  

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