The Bethlehem region is increasingly fragmented by Israeli occupation policies, according to a new UN agency factsheet. The OCHA publication, ‘Bethlehem governorate: fragmentation and humanitarian concerns’, details ways in which colonisation and apartheid restrictions are blighting Palestinians’ lives in the region.
Israeli policies and practices applied since the beginning of the occupation, which have accelerated in recent years, have resulted in the increasing fragmentation of the Bethlehem governorate and its population.
These policies have included “the annexation of areas to Israel; the seizure of land and its allocation for settlement development and for military training; the imposition of physical and administrative access restrictions; the inadequate planning and zoning regime; and ineffective enforcement of the law on Israeli settlers, among others.”
There are currently more than 100,000 Israeli settlers living in 19 settlements and so-called ‘outposts’ – all a grave violation of international law – across the governorate (“including in those parts de facto annexed by Israel to the Jerusalem municipality”). From 2009 through 2014, there were 162 UN-recorded settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties or property damage.
For the past two decades, some 85% of Bethlehem governorate has continued under full Israeli occupation control (‘Area C’), with the “vast majority” of it “off limits for Palestinian development.” That includes nearly 12% allocated for “settlement development.”
Meanwhile, less than 1% of Area C has an Israeli-approved outline plan required for Palestinians to build ‘legally’ (a 2008 UN study showed how over 94% of Palestinians’ building permit applications in Area C were denied). Since 2009, Israeli occupation forces have demolished 118 Palestinian structures in Area C of Bethlehem governorate, forcibly displacing some 174 people.
56km of the Apartheid Wall is located within the governorate. The finished route – 62% is complete or under construction – is set to isolate 12 Palestinian communities from the rest of the governorate. Farmers from at least 22 communities already “require visitor permits or prior coordination to access their privately-owned land located behind the Barrier or in the vicinity of settlements.”
Palestinians in Bethlehem also experience significant violence under Israel’s half-century-long military rule of the West Bank. In 2014, Israeli forces killed four Palestinians, including two children, during protests and military patrols and raids. Another 1,292 – almost half children – were injured.
The factsheet notes a number of events in 2014 illustrative of how Israel’s colonisation of the Bethlehem area continues apace. These included 1,000 dunums of land being designated ‘state land’ in April, settlers taking over a forest for a ‘tourist site’ in July, and the promotion of plans for 2,610 new housing units in Giva’t HaMatos colony in September.
OCHA states that as the occupying power, “Israel is obligated to ensure that the humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Bethlehem are met and that they are able to exercise their human rights, including their right to enjoy their natural resources and to be free from discrimination.” The priorities of an apartheid regime, however, lie elsewhere, in Bethlehem as in the rest of Palestine.