This is Bethlehem Today

The Palestinian city of Bethlehem  lies 6 miles (10km) south of Jerusalem, the two cities sprawling one into the other. Bethlehem governorate is a conurbation of several contiguous towns, including the old city, surrounded by 41 small villages, with a total population of 194,000 Palestinians.  There are also now 22 illegal Israeli settlements in Bethlehem governorate plus 22 outposts (outposts are how settlers establish new settlements or expand existing ones).

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An Israeli settlement near Bethlehem

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, when it illegally annexed East Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital.  In 2002, following the second Intifada (Arabic for Shaking Off), Israel began building the Segregation Wall. This now dominates the landscape of Bethlehem and the lives of its people, cutting them off from East Jerusalem

131105 Bethlehem Separation Wall A.Morgan. jpg  131105 Bethlehem Wall tower & EAs A.Morgan jpg

The Wall has decimated the Palestinian economy and Bethlehem, which was a thriving economic hub, now has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank (35%).

131105 Bethlehem Queues at Israeli Checkpoint 300 A.MorganjpgOutside our apartment there is a constant hum of vehicles queueing for Israeli Checkpoint 300 (Gilo), the main access from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. Tourist busses come and go full of foreign Christian pilgrims, but West Bank Palestinians can not pass through without a permits which is hard to obtain and often arbitrarily revoked.

131108 bethlehem Israel Checkpoint 300 israeli Guards checking Cars with Palestinian Number PlatesA.Morgan

Armed Israeli soldiers and security guards check vehicles passing though Checkpoint 300.

 

131105 Bethlehem Security Wall at Pedestrian Entrance to Israeli Checkpoint 300 A.Morgan

The Segregation Wall crossing the Hebron Road into Jerusalem and taxis waiting near the pedestrian entrance to Israeli Checkpoint 300.

131105 Bethlehem Aida camp entrance A.Morgan

The ‘Key of Return’ entrance to Ayda Refugee Camp. Bethlehem has threeRefugees camps, Ayda, Al Aza and Ad Duheisha, which remain home to around 18,000 people – generations of refugees since from 1948 and 1967.

1983-2013

Just arrived in Bethlehem to begin a three months stint as a human rights observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (www.eappi.org). The Bethlehem team is made up of five Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) from Poland, Switzerland, Norway, Canada and Britain. We are one of eight teams, totalling 36 internationals spread across the West Bank. After a week of orientation in Jerusalem and a few days handover from the Team 49 we are flying solo!  So today began at 3.30am with observer duties at Israeli Checkpoint 300 (More of which later).

 

This is my fourth time in this troubled region, having first visited Israel in 1983 as a new graduate on a university travel scholarship, hosted by a Tel Aviv research institute and a kibbutz in the Lower Galilee. I thought I had come to study agriculture, but found that life has its own ideas for what it will teach us.  I returned in 2011 and 2012 to pick olives as part of  group providing Protective Presence to Palestinian Farmers in a group of West Bank villages  living under occupation and in the shadow of two Illegal Israel settlements – ironically, both settlements were founded at the time of my first visit in1983.