Bethlehem, Sun 4.4.10, Morning

Sylvia P., Ofra B., Hana A., (reporting & taking photos)


After a short visit to Checkpoint 300, the Bethlehem checkpoint we monitor on a regular basis on Sunday mornings, we learned that the checkpoint had been closed hermetically from Sunday afternoon March 28, 2010, until Thursday, April 1, 2010, in the afternoon. Why? One wonders.

The reason is that on Sunday, March 28, Palm Sunday, a demonstration of Bethlehem residents dared to march in the direction of Jerusalem to protest the very small amount of permits issued this year to Palestinians of the Christian faith to attend religious ceremonies in Jerusalem during the Easter holidays. The march stopped on its own initiative some 200 meter away from the checkpoint.

As the group started going back to Bethlehem after a few speeches were made, they were attacked by a police force: 15 people were arrested, 5 internationals and Israelis, 10 Palestinians, among whom some senior officers in the Palestinian Authority. The internationals and the Israelis were released on the same day, the Palestinians were held in custody for five days in the Ofer detention center. This led to an outraged protest around the Ofer facility. On the fifth day of arrest, the detaineesinfo-icon were brought before a judge who reprimanded the police on the fruitless arrests.

On top of the attack on the protesters and their arrest, the entire city of Bethlehem was punished by a hermetical closure. Official closures are not supposed to be hermetical as urgent humanitarian cases must be allowed to pass. The fact of the hermetical closure was not publicized and the residents themselves found out only when they came to the checkpoint. The checkpoint is an international border crossing and is open during closure days for tourists, for people with permits to Jerusalem for religious observances, for humanitarian cases and for medical staff.

We learned of the closure only on Sunday morning when we met one of the mothers who takes her child to a Jerusalem hospital for dialysis three times a week. We meet this mother and other parents who fulfill this task for their sick children every Sunday morning.

In addition to our short visit to the checkpoint, we did something not within our routine this time: we went to visit Anwar (the real name is with the MW editors) who lives in the Bethlehem area in a small and beautiful village. Anwar is about to petition the court for his removal from the blacklist. This blacklisting prevents him from getting a work permit in Israel and the occupied territories. This is the story: Anwar is approaching 50, married with seven children ranging between the ages of 10-26. The entire family lives in an apartment comprising several rooms. The oldest son is married and has two children. This family also lives with the parents where they occupy one of the rooms. The crowdedness is unbearable. Anwar's aging parents live with three of their adult unmarried children in a small unit attached to the main house. Anwar is the oldest son. The family's economic condition is extremely harsh since Anwar is the only working member of the family and thus its only source of income. The extended family comprises 15 members and two small children. Anwar has worked in Israel and on the settlements for 25 years in construction. He always had a work permit. He is a smart person, speaks good Hebrew and built the one-story house he lives in with his own hands. The house is attractively built but not by far big enough for the number of people living in it. Of the 25 years of working with Israelis, 10 were spent working in the occupied territories (settlements).

In December 2006 he was declared blacklisted, but a little less than a year ago, in 2009, his permits were reinstated. However, at the beginning of the present year, 2010, he was again put back on the list of security risks, the blacklist and his permits revoked. His oldest son, who worked with him in the settlements, had to stop working there as well as he was still learning the trade and could not work alone. All avenues for making a living were closed to Anwar as unemployment in the West Bank is high. As it was, his salary was hardly sufficient, but now, without an income, his economic condition is fast deteriorating. Anwar has growing debts: to the grocery store, to the electrical company, to the municipality for the water bill, etc. Two of his children study at university and the others are still in school. For all of them Anwar needs substantial sums of money to keep them in school – tuition, schoolbooks, writing utensils, travel expenses, food, clothes, etc. Anwar lives in fear that he will not be able to supply his children with the education they deserve due to his forced unemployment. The employers he worked with in the past are clamoring to get him back but the authorities cannot be budged. A tragic story.

Anwar's extended family is in similarly bad shape. One of his brothers, 36 years of age with a family of seven children, is eking out a living. The brother works in a Palestinian stone quarry and is in poor state of health. He needs medical treatment and often cannot work. Another brother, 34 years of age with 7 children, works intermittently in the village itself. On good days he comes home with 50 shekels (about $13.50). Another brother, 28 and a father of 2, worked in the settlements in the past but today works only intermittently; the two younger brothers, aged 22 and 25, live with their parents and try to eke out a living by cultivating the small plot of land the family owns. The field has 10 dunam (area measure - 1dunam = 1000 square meter) located outside the village. The produce from this small plot of land is not enough to live on.

Now a new tragedy is looming. For the last few months a fence has been under construction enclosing the settlement of Efrat on its eastern edge in a wide circle. The construction of a new road around the settlement on the eastern side has been completed thus pushing the lines of defense, by means of a separation fence, further to the east. (pic. on right) The road is part of the obstacle planned to isolate the settlement from the surroundings and the fence will be built on Palestinian agricultural lands. This is the road which will be part of the separation obstacle. At the top of the hill, on the left, is Efrat. In between the road and Efrat, is the Palestinian plantation.

In its comprehensive study from 2002 “Land Grab" about the impact of West Bank settlements, the Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem notes (with regard to the Gush Etzion bloc):  

"In terms of the ramifications of the bloc of settlements on the Palestinian population, this bloc also includes several of the main phenomena identified in other areas, from the blockage of urban development to the restriction of freedom of movement. The area of jurisdiction of the settlement of Efrata extends in a diagonal to the northeast over an area of approximately 6,500 dunam (area measure - see above). The tip of this area touches the southern border of area A in the vicinity of Bethlehem ... continuing along almost this entire border and completely restricting urban development in this direction. ... As in the case of the settlements in the Western Hills, the settlements in this bloc also create an obstacle separating the villages and towns of the Bethlehem area from the city of Hebron and its environs. As in the case of the settlements in the Mountain Strip, some of the settlements in this area also lie along Road No. 60, creating a bloc that controls a broad stretch of the road. As a result, the IDF extensively restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinians along the road, as it does in the areas of the settlements in the Mountain Strip".

Along the road on which we drove there is a very primitive barbed wire fence. At the point where the "obstacle road" meets the main road, there is a simple, primitive, entrance gate. Beyond the gate one can see the Palestinian agricultural plots which will be enclosed on the western side of the fence. This is where Anwar's family's plot is (pic. on right). Once the fence is completed, it will be hard, if not impossible, for his brothers to reach this plot. The heartbreak is enormous. On the brown foreground is the meticulously cultivated vineyard, part of which belongs to Anwar's family. This part will be on the western side of the fence. The sign indicates the entrance to "Etsion Industrial Park" which is also built on land confiscated from Palestinians.

This is the fate of one family – strong in talent and potential – in the occupied territories of the West Bank. They cannot obtain work permits. Why? No one understands – and the little bit of land that the family still owns and needs, is about to be swallowed up by "security needs." A real tragedy that no one knows about. Oh, well. Who cares??