Bethlehem is located 10 kilometers to the south of Jerusalem. It has a population of over 220,000 people, including over 20,000 living in three refugee camps (Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin).
The most important cities and towns of the governorate are Bethlehem City, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Al Doha, Al Khader, Battir and Artas.
There are two sites in the governorate that have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site:
- The Nativity Church and Star Street (“Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route”).
- Battir, including Wadi’ Makhrour (“Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir”).
Other important heritage and archeological sites located in the governorate are:
- The Herodion Mountain (under full Israeli control).
- The Rachel Tomb / Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque (under full Israeli control).
- The Pools of King Salomon in Artas.
- The Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour (there are two locations: one for the Roman Catholic Church and one for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate).
- Saint Nicholas Church in Beit Jala (a large parade of scouts takes place every December 19th marking the Saint Nicolas’ Day).
- Saint George’s Monastery in Al Khader.
- Cremisan Valley (including its monasteries and winery).
- The Dead Sea (under full Israeli control).
- There are 18 illegal Israeli settlements across the Bethlehem Governorate with a population of over 100,000 settlers. This includes areas within the Israeli-defined, expanded and annexed “Jerusalem Municipality”. In effect, Israeli settlements surround the holy city of Bethlehem from its four sides.
- The most prominent Israeli settlements in the Bethlehem area are Gilo and Har Homa to the north; Har Gilo, Beitar Illit and Neve Daniel to the West, Efrat to the south as well as Nokdim and Tekoa to the East. Among the Israeli settlers living in the Bethlehem governorate there are the Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Nokdim), Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Neve Daniel) and Minister of Environment and Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin (Kfar Eldad).
- The construction of Israel’s illegal Annexation Wall in Beit Jala (Bir Onah/Cremisan) continued during 2016, with the uprooting of ancient olive trees and restricting access to the Palestinian valley of Cremisan.
- Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian government exercises control over only 13% of the Bethlehem Governorate. In the absence of the Israeli occupation, Bethlehem would have open roads connecting it with Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Connection with Jerusalem
- Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been twin cities for centuries. The Israeli occupation through its policy of colonization, including its illegal Annexation Wall, has separated both cities for first time in 2000 years of Christianity. This includes the pilgrimage routes that now have to cross through an Israeli checkpoint.
- For Palestinian ID holders, entry to Jerusalem is restricted. They can only do so after obtaining an Israeli military permit. In the vast majority of cases, this permit is restricted to certain hours and does not allow the holder to drive a car.
- Israel’s racist citizenship laws have prevented thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites from obtaining family reunification for their spouses and children from the rest of the Occupied State of Palestine. This has particularly affected Palestinian Christians that had intermarried between Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah for centuries.
- Both East Jerusalem and Bethlehem are an integral part of the Occupied State of Palestine.
Tourism and economy
- During 2016 Palestine received about 2.3 million visitors (compared to 2.2 million visitors during the previous year).
- 2016 registered 900,000 overnight stays in Palestinian hotels, compared to 860,000 during 2015. An important number of them came from Palestinians.
- Despite its potential, Bethlehem has the largest unemployment rate in the Occupied West Bank with 29% (Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce).