Bethlehem and The Threat of Israel’s Annexation

Media Briefs
December 23, 2019
Bethlehem and the Threat of Israel’s Annexation

Bethlehem Governorate is located 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem. The governorate includes, in addition to Bethlehem City, the ancient cities, towns and villages of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Al Khader , Battir and Artas. It also includes three refugee camps (Aida, Dheisheh and Beit Jibrin). The governorate is home to over 220,000 Palestinians, including around 20,000 refugees.

Israel’s Colonial Settlements

Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israel has built a network of 18 illegal colonial-settlements that encircle Bethlehem from all sides. The population of these colonial-settlements is estimated to be over 130,000 settlers. This includes Gilo, Giv’at Hamatos and Har Homa to the north; Har Gilo, Beitar Illit and Neve Daniel to the West; Efrat to the south; and Nokdim and Tekoa to the east[1].

During 2019 Israel a new colonial settlement outpost was started in coordination between the Jewish National Fund and Israeli settlers in the Makhrour area of Beit Jala[2]. Existing colonial-settlements in the Bethlehem Area that got approvals for expansion during 2019 include Beitar Illit[3] (west of the city), Nokdim[4] (east), Gilo[5] (north) and Efrat[6] (south).

Israel’s Annexation Wall

In 2002 the Israeli government approved the construction of a Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that the Wall is illegal, and that Israel has the obligation to dismantle the wall and compensate the affected Palestinians, including a well-defined scope of responsibilities for the international community not to cooperate with Israel[7]. Approximately 88% of Israel’s Annexation Wall is built on occupied Palestinian territory. However, in the case of the Bethlehem governorate 100% of the Wall is built on occupied Palestinian territory. The Wall in Bethlehem separates Palestinians from their lands, holy sites and services.  


Approximately 22,000 dunums of land of the northern Bethlehem Governorate have been formally annexed by the Israeli occupation[8]. This includes lands of Al Slayeb, Mar Elias and Jabal Abu Ghneim, where the illegal colonial settlements of Gilo, Giv’at Hamatos and Har Homa form a barrier to prevent the connection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. As explained by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: the settlement of Har Homa “[w]as a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” He went on to say, that “because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians, I saw the potential was really great.[9]

Threats of Further Annexation

In July 2017, members of the Israeli government coalition introduced a bill to the Israeli parliament for a further unilateral expansion of the so called Israeli “Jerusalem Municipality”[10], towards other areas of the occupied West Bank, including western Bethlehem (referred to by Israel as “Gush Etzion”).

UNESCO World Heritage Site Threatened with Annexation 

One of the most important areas in the western Bethlehem governorate is Battir/Makhrour valley. In 2014 this area was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Palestine Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir”. On October 22, 2019, the Israeli government approved plans to expand Bypass Road 60, which separates Bethlehem City from the western villages, including this World Heritage Site[11]. The expansion threatens to expand the already inflicted damage in the area, which will also affect the Cremisan Valley, Al Khader and Al-Ma’asara.

US Support for Further Annexation

Israeli plans to further annex Palestinian land goes in line with the US Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (6 December 2017[12]), US statements supporting annexation of occupied territory (8 June 2019[13]), US envoy referring to international law as “irrelevant” (23 July 2019[14]) and the latest State Department declaration of Israeli colonial-settlements “not being illegal” (18 November 2019[15]).

The Israeli Annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territory is Strictly Prohibited Under International Law

It impedes the right to self-determination, a peremptory norm under international law. As a result, imposing an obligation on all States to ensure the enjoyment of this right. Israel has continuously entrenched its de facto annexation of occupied territory, rendering any formal declaration of annexation a mere label of what already exists on the ground.


Israel’s Occupation Prevents Palestine from Reaching its Full Touristic Potential- This includes:

  • Limited Palestinian control over touristic and archeological sites in the occupied State of Palestine: In Bethlehem it includes the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque / Rachel Tomb, Mar Elias Monastery and the Herodion Mountain.

  • Restriction of Movement: In violation of the Paris Protocol, Israel prevents the freedom of movement for tourism-related officers, including tour guides and buses. To date only about 40 Palestinian tour guides have permits that allow them to conduct tours in occupied East Jerusalem as well as in Israel.

  • Leakages over tourism revenues[16].

[1] For more information please check “Besieging Bethlehem” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[2] WAFA “Israeli settlers raze Palestinian-owned land in preparation for new settler outpost” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[3] Peace Now “October 2019 Approvals” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[6] European Union “Six-Month Report on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[7] International Court of Justice “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[8] The Society of Saint Yves “The Last Nail in Bethlehem’s Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[9] Jewish Telegraphic Agency “Netanyahu: No Palestinian state on my watch” available at:, last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[10] International Crisis Group “Reversing Israel’s deepening annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[11] OCHA “Recent developments add to pressure on Bethlehem’s Rural Area” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[12] New York Times “Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and orders U.S. embassy move” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[13] New York Times “U.S. Ambassador says Israel has right to annex part of the West Bank” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[14] Reuters “Trump’s Middle East envoy faces resistance at U.N. Security Council meeting” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[15] The Guardian “US says Israeli settlements no longer considered illegal in dramatic shift” available at last accessed on December 23, 2019.

[16] For more information please check “Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian tourism and international complicity: Tourism as a tool to normalize the occupation” available at’s-exploitation-palestinian-tourism-and-international last accessed on DEcember 23, 2019.

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