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Israel to Finish Construction of "Erez" Checkpoint in Bethlehem

On September 26, Israel unilaterally implemented its plan to separate Palestinians entering Jerusalem from tourists and Jewish settlers in what appears to be a trial run before the actual construction of the new checkpoint in Bethlehem.  As tourists and Jewish worshippers visited the heavily guarded Rachel’s Tomb during the Sukkot festivities through the existing checkpoint on the Hebron Road, the Israeli Defense Force redirected Palestinian traffic along an alternative course.  Instead of entering Jerusalem through the existing checkpoint, Palestinian were made to park their cars in a recently opened 700 car parking lot and walk over 1000 meters to pick-up transportation at the Gilo junction. 

According to sources within the Jerusalem Municipal Council and a recent Ha’aretz article (24/9/99 Hebrew edition), the Jerusalem Municipality is committed to finishing construction on the new checkpoint this year despite the fact that the new checkpoint admittedly does not have the proper permits.  The plan will include the construction of a new checkpoint modeled on the one used in Gaza, with a 650 meter walking path and a receptacle road which will be used to transport Palestinians with valid permits to Jerusalem.   

Construction on Rachel’s Tomb is also rapidly continuing.  According to information solicited by the Bethlehem Municipality from the Israeli Civil Administration, the construction on Rachel’s Tomb will include a reinforced concrete wall around the holy site as well as a bridge to connect the guarded parking lot and military outpost with Rachel’s Tomb.  This new construction is in addition to the existing military installments including a security wall and seven guard towers.  Once the plan is implemented, the Jerusalem boundary will expand to reach Rachel’s Tomb under the auspices of a security zone. 

While officials in the Palestinian Authority as well as the Bethlehem Municipality officially oppose the plan, little action has been taken to stop the implementation of the Israeli plan.   According to officials in the Jerusalem Municipal Council and a recent article in Ha’aretz, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism has already agreed to allow the Israelis to complete construction on the new checkpoint.  Palestinian Ministry officials have refused to comment on the closed door meeting held on 13 September in the Bethlehem Municipality between Israeli Tourist Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and his counter part Mitri Abu-Aita purportedly to discuss the facilitation of tourism into Bethlehem. 

Badil Resource Center regards the implementation of the new Israeli plan to be extremely provocative and a violation of a host of Palestinian rights.  The new checkpoint will engender the confiscation of more Palestinian land and strengthen the policy of Israeli military closure around Jerusalem which has besieged the Palestinian community.  According to figures from the World Bank, the military closure has caused an 18% increase in the rate of unemployment in the West Bank and a 20% decrease in real per capita income.  The closure has also decimated the Palestinian economy in occupied Jerusalem. Moreover, the military closure severely impairs the freedom of movement of Palestinians and sabotages Palestinian national rights to Jerusalem by creating de facto borders well before the start of final status negotiations. 

Badil Resource Center calls upon Israel to end its flagrant violations of human rights in the occupied territories. Badil also calls on the international community to condemn Israel’s continuing occupation and pressure Israel to end the nine and half year policy of closure.  Badil Resource Center also calls upon local Palestinian communities, the Palestinian Authority and the Bethlehem Municipality to take immediate action to confront the latest Israeli aggression. Israel is quickly forming facts on the ground and without immediate action Bethlehem will become a Bantustan, its inhabitants imprisoned on their own land. 

For more information contact: BADIL Resource Center, PO Box 728, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine; tel/fax. 274-7346 or 277-7086;  
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