FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
As the Bethlehem Municipality rushes to complete plans to make the Bethlehem 2000 Project a success, Israel has made and begun to implement alternative plans. According to an Israeli map obtained from the Palestinian District Coordinating Liaison Office (DC0) in Bethlehem, Israel plans to construct a new “Erez style” checkpoint for Jerusalem in Bethlehem, ostensibly to facilitate the influx of tourists expected for the celebrations in 2000. The map, given to the DCL office two months ago, entails the conversion of the existing checkpoint, near the Vatican’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute, into a permanent checkpoint to be used exclusively by tourists, Jewish settlers, and VIPs. According to the plan, a parallel road for Palestinians, 150 to 200 meters east of the Hebron Road, will be opened, complete with a 700 car parking lot and a 650 meter “Pedestrian Road” leading to the new “Pedestrian Terminal,” similar to the one used in Gaza.
While Palestinians reject the map as a unilateral Israeli attempt to consolidate claims on Jerusalem and fragment the Palestinian population and territory, construction has already begun and the plan is quickly becoming a reality on the ground. A reinforcement wall has been constructed around the existing checkpoint. The foundation for the receptacle road to be used after the Palestinian workers exit the new checkpoint has also been laid and a 700-car parking lot lies empty but ready for business. Sources indicate that the checkpoint could be ready within one month. (See map)
Construction has also begun at Rachel’s Tomb, which is located inside Bethlehem over top the Mosque of Bilal. Signs indicate that the Israeli government plans to build a series of tunnels under the Hebron Road, leading from Rachel’s Tomb to a guarded parking lot used primarily by Jewish Orthodox worshipers. Currently, there are seven Israeli guard towers for so-called security reasons. Muslim Palestinians are no longer permitted entry to the mosque.
The new plan also calls for the expansion of the Jerusalem municipal border. According to estimates made by the Arabic daily al-Ayyam, the municipal expansion would engender the confiscation and annexation of an additional 4,500 dunums of Bethlehem Municipality land. Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, a total of 9,000 dunums have already been confiscated from Bethlehem, 7,000 in 1974 and 2,000 in 1996. If the current Israeli plan is fully implemented, Israel will have confiscated a total of 13,500 dunums of private, church, and Bethlehem municipal property.
Other Israeli plans in the area include construction of the new Jewish settlement of Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghnaim with a replica of Bethlehem, called Bethlehem Israel (see www.arij.org/paleye/abughnam/index.htm). This replica, complete with hotels and tourist facilities, will be used to divert tourism away from Bethlehem and deprive Bethlehem of one of its most important sources of income. New bypass roads in various stages of construction will link the southern settlements of Har Gilo and Har Homa, split Bethlehem in two, and demarcate the new expanded borders of Jerusalem. With illegal Jewish settlements expanding from all directions, especially Efrat in the south, historic Bethlehem and its three refugee camps are successfully being transformed into an isolated bantustan with little room left for natural growth.
We, as Palestinian human rights organizations, regard this new Israeli plan as extremely provocative and dangerous not only to Jerusalem and Bethlehem but to peace in general. The installation of an “Erez style” checkpoint, which infringes upon a host of basic rights, including freedom of movement and the right to property, not to mention Palestinian national rights in Jerusalem, will radically advance the system of apartheid that has developed under the guise of the Oslo Process.
We call upon the international community to condemn Israel’s continuing occupation and its policies of apartheid. It is inconceivable at a time when Bethlehem and the Palestinian people prepare to welcome the world for the millenium celebrations, that Israel is using the celebrations as a cover to further restrict Palestinian access to Jerusalem and confiscate more land in the Bethlehem area. Without immediate action historic Bethlehem will become another Gaza, fenced in and isolated from Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank, and the world at large.
For more information contact:
Badil Resource Center, PO Box 728, Bethlehem, Palestine
Statement issued by Badil Resource Center, Jerusalem Center for Women, Palestinian Human Rights Information Center, Women’s Technical Affairs Committee