November 2nd 1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavour to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”
Can anyone honestly say that what exists today in the land containing the Jewish Homeland and the non-Jewish communities within it as well as the parts Israel now occupies, complies with the terms of this Declaration?
Just a few facts:
Did you know that the ‘separation barrier’ is over twice the length of the 1967 Armistice Line and that 85% is built on Palestinian land and not on the border between Israel and what should be Palestine? In fact Israel has no fixed border.
The barrier snakes around the many exclusively Jewish illegal settlements built within the West Bank. It is not always the spectacular wall seen in so many photos of Bethlehem. It is often a vast fence that actually takes up more valuable Palestinian land than the wall as it is much wider. It is mostly built on privately owned Palestinian land, separating Palestinians from each other and from their land and community facilities such as schools and hospitals, not to mention water aquifers.
Banksy has done a lot for Palestinians and especially those in Bethlehem as a great deal of his artwork exists there. A quick Google will reveal a wealth of it. And now he is trying to draw attention, as I am, to the impending centenary of a disgraceful and deceitful British action.
The first half of the Sabeel conference took place in Bethlehem.
I have been back most years since I first spent 3 months in Hebron in 2009. Much has changed in that time, sadly for the worse. In the map on the left you can see the ‘security’ barrier clearly cutting Bethlehem off from Jerusalem. You can also see just how many Palestinian areas are on the ‘wrong’ side of that barrier. This map is not up to date, as the Israeli settlements surrounding Bethlehem have greatly increased in size as well as number. Bethlehem is squeezed tightly with little room for expansion of its own.
The economy of the West Bank is dire and Bethlehem is no exception. Israel controls everything that come into and goes out of the West Bank and businesses suffer greatly as the costs of imports and exports are very high and the restrictions great and complex. Many living there rely on work in Israel and every morning, as early as 4 am, they queue up to go through the main Gilo checkpoint to get to work, often in Jerusalem and sometimes much further into Israel. Work permits are hard to obtain and easy to lose. Getting through the checkpoint can take several hours every day with no guarantee of success. Photos do not really convey the inhumanity of a system where a worker’s job security is entirely at the whim of young conscripts who can force men to strip each morning, refuse a finger print that has been damaged through labour or reject an ID card because a distant cousin has been accused of stone throwing. It is a system that only allows married men over the age of 25 to get a work permit (to ensure they have a reason to return) and closes the checkpoint whenever there is a Jewish holiday so that these workers cannot get to their jobs at all and, at the least, lose income for those days. While we were there the Jewish Festival of Purim began and the West Bank was sealed off for 4 days. The number of days of closure creeps up each year and is much higher than the original 10 days per year that had previously been agreed. http://www.timesofisrael.com/army-extends-west-banks-closure-for-purim-by-1-more-day/
Bethlehem has also seen a huge increase in motoring offenses and crime that it can do nothing about as it has no jurisdiction over the perpetrators who are Israeli. Israel is expensive and has strict civil laws on motoring, drugs, theft etc. Bethlehem is cheaper and, although Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot enter Israel without a permit, that does not apply to Israeli Palestinians legally and Israeli Jews illegally, who can enter Bethlehem freely. You see many yellow Israeli car number plates all over Bethlehem as they can drive in and out without restrictions. Although most of Bethlehem is supposedly under full Palestinian control, that is not actually the case as Bethlehem has no jurisdiction over any of these disruptive visitors who can break the law with impunity. It is also a fact that Israel makes incursions into Bethlehem whenever it chooses and frequently into the refugee camp. The suggestion that the Palestinian Authority has any kind of full control over such Palestinian built up areas is a joke.
On a positive note there has been a great deal of restoration done in the Church of the Nativity with some beautiful mosaics being uncovered and on view for the first time.
Among the other issues for Bethlehem and the Palestinian district around it are the Israeli water restrictions, denial of building permits and the confiscation of land for further exclusively Jewish only settlements and roads. The blog posts that follow will attempt to cover some of these issues.