Disrupting Christmas: The Ongoing Fragmentation of Palestine’s Land and People
Disrupting Christmas: The Ongoing Fragmentation of Palestine’s Land and People
On Christmas day of 1947, the Palestinian village of Al Mas’oudiya near Jaffa was ethnically cleansed. For 75 years, Palestinian Muslims and Christians have had their lives disrupted by Zionist/Israeli oppressive policies and hostile acts that deny and violate our national and human rights in Palestine.
To hold the occupying Power, Israel, accountable, these international and humanitarian law violations need to be regularly reported and investigated. The following brief explains how Israel's colonial occupation has fragmented the land and people of Palestine, focusing on specific aspects of observing Christmas in Bethlehem and how the Israeli occupation policies disrupt the celebrations.
Preventing Palestinians’ Access to Bethlehem
Israel's colonial-settlement regime fragments the Palestinian people to such an extent that neither Palestinians living in Gaza nor those living in exile are permitted to visit Bethlehem without Israeli permission. Depending on Israeli military considerations, even Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinians living outside Bethlehem within the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, could be denied access to Bethlehem.
Christians in Palestine are denied access to Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem due to Israeli restricting policies. This includes Palestinian Christians with Jordanian citizenship, who, despite belonging to the Jerusalem Churches, are systematically banned from Palestine and are allowed to enter Bethlehem only when a minimal number of permits are granted during the festivities. The new COGAT regulations have made it increasingly difficult for Arabs in general to visit Palestine and are already adversely affecting the ability of Palestinian educational and health institutions, religious organizations, the private sector, civil society, and government to enjoy several cooperation and investment opportunities.
Banning of Palestinian Family Reunifications
Most of Israel's Zionist parties agree that Palestinian family reunifications should be banned. In the Lapid/Gantz government, all Zionist parties endorsed a racist law consolidating the separation of Palestinian families. The law is intended to separate thousands of Palestinian families. In Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians who are used to centuries of intermarriages are increasingly worried about this and regard this ban as a threat facing their families. In addition to being separated from their families in Gaza, Israel controls the Palestinian Population Registry, which prevents families living in the occupied State of Palestine from freely reuniting with their relatives abroad.
The Ongoing Threats to the Status Quo of Muslim and Christian Holy Sites
In addition to Israel’s ongoing violation of the historical status quo in the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, it is also trying to turn vast areas of the Christian religious site of Mount of Olives (Gethsemane) into an Israeli national park. Also, with the support of the Israeli occupation authorities, foreign-funded settler groups continue to threaten Palestinians in Silwan and the Jaffa Gate Church properties. In Bethlehem, the Israeli government continues to develop settler infrastructure around the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque (Rachel Tomb).
The Expansion of Israel’s Colonial Settlements in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and the Ongoing Process of Annexation
After Israel formally annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1981, the imposition of colonial settlement rings around Jerusalem became its official policy. Additionally, Bethlehem was entirely separated from Jerusalem for the first time in over 2000 years of Christianity in Palestine due to the construction of the illegal Annexation Wall. Currently, Israel is working on several colonial projects in Bethlehem and Jerusalem governorates, including the expansion of bypass road 60, “Giv’at Hamatos” settlement (surrounding Mar Elias Monastery and the first stop for the Christmas Eve Procession on the way from Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate to the Nativity Church in Bethlehem) and the “Lower Aqueduct” settlement project, among other colonial projects in the heart of Beit Safafa.
The Complicity of International Companies: The Case of Battir/ Al-Makhrour and the Expansion of Road 60.
In February 2020, the United Nations published a database of companies profiting from Israel's colonial-settlement occupation of Palestine. Although not an exhaustive list of all companies involved, the list became a powerful means of explaining the extent of international complicity in denying Palestinian rights. Regardless, the involvement of foreign companies in Israel's ongoing annexation process has continued to grow in the absence of concrete measures by third parties.
This reality is evident in what's happening in the north and west of the Bethlehem governorate, where European firms are involved and donations are coming from the US, Canada, Australia, and EU member states, as well as Latin American countries, among others. The “Makhrour Valley,” part of Battir’s UNESCO World Heritage Site (“Palestine land of olives and vines”), is a unique green area west of Bethlehem under the ongoing threat of Israeli annexation. The agony in this place is another sign of the international complicity with Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise.
Road 60 and the Annexation of Western Bethlehem
Al-Makhrour Valley is part of the natural extension of Bethlehem to the west, including a network of villages, including Battir, Husan, Wadi Fukin, Al Wallajah, and Nahhalin. Several villages in the same area were ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948, including Al Malha, the historic Wallajah, Ras Abu Ammar, Al Qabu, and Beit Saqiya, among others. For years, these villages served as the food basket for Jerusalem because they are situated on some of the most fertile lands.
To facilitate access to its illegal colonial settlements, the occupying Power began building a massive project of by-pass roads in the area. The purpose of such infrastructure is to expand the settlement enterprise by providing more incentives for Israeli Jewish citizens. In Bethlehem governorate, it meant the rapid development of the “tunnels road,” a major infrastructural expansion on Beit Jala and Al-Khader lands to become part of “Road 60”, which crosses the occupied West Bank from north to south. Palestinian farmers had their lands confiscated for the sake of constructing this road that remains inaccessible to Palestinian cars.
In the western Bethlehem area in the illegal colonial settlement of “Betar Illit,” the increase in the number of illegal settlers from 5,000 in 1995 (before the opening of the “Tunnels Road”) to over 60,000 settlers today is a stark example of how illegal built-up infrastructure is a driving force towards an increase in the illegal settler population on occupied land, belonging to the State of Palestine.
Spanish and British Technology at the Service of the Israeli Occupation
On 1 September 2019, the Israeli occupation announced the confiscation of Palestinian land to expand Road 60. This included building new bridges and tunnels in an initiative that began to be built by a consortium of a Spanish and an Israeli company. The Spanish company is OSSA, a firm with extensive work in Greece, China, Norway, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru, among others. Their website and LinkedIn page included this announcement: “We are happy to announce that the Route 60 tunnel, that OSSA is building in consortium with Oron Group Investments and Holdings Ltd in Israel, broke through. The tunnel is 890 m long and has a cross section of 145 m2.” Their Israeli partner, Oron, has conducted several activities in the occupied territory of Palestine, including operating the “Meitarim” quarry and marketing 64 land plots in the colonial settlement of “Eshkolot,” south of Hebron.
Part of the machinery used to expand Road 60 on Palestinian lands has been provided by Britain’s JCB, a company widely denounced for its complicity in several crimes committed by the Israeli occupation, including home demolitions, destruction of agricultural fields, and colonial-settlement expansion. The company was included in the UN list of companies involved with the Israeli occupation, an initiative that was opposed by the British government, with minister James Cleverly stating in the British Parliament that “the UK has not co-operated with the process of compiling this database, nor have we encouraged UK companies to do so.”
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Construction of a New Colonial-Settlement Installation (outpost)
The Israeli occupation has systematically hindered the development of Al-Makhrour Valley, which has significant tourism potential for Palestine. As part of such measures, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) demolished several Palestinian agricultural structures in the valley to the extent of demolishing a traditional restaurant in August 2019. Several days later, a group of settlers, protected by the IOF, began constructing an illegal colonial settlement installation (outpost) in the heart of Al-Makhrour through a Jewish National Fund (JNF) subsidiary. Today, armed settlers are provoking the Palestinian residents with the Israeli flag in the Al-Makhrour valley.
The JNF has branches in several countries, channeling “tax-deductible” donations from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and EU countries. It also has a presence in Switzerland and several Latin American countries. The JNF has invested millions in expanding colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank over the past few years. It has funded projects in various colonial settlements, including “Shilo” (Nablus), “Ariel” (Salfit), “Avnei Hefetz” (Tulkarem), “Gush Etzion” (Bethlehem/Hebron), “Kfar Adumin” (Jerusalem), “Mateh Binyamin” (Ramallah), “Eitam” (Bethlehem), “Mitzpe Yericho” (Jericho), “Rosh Tzurim” (Bethlehem), “Habanim” (Hebron), “Alon Moreh” (Nablus), “Shavei Shomron” (Nablus), “Har Bracha” (Nablus) and “Beit El” (Ramallah), among others.
Supporting Peace Means Ending impunity, Including Funding for Settlements
The case of Al-Makhrour/ Battir illustrates how the international community that claims to “support the two-state” solution has allowed Israel to expand its colonial settlement enterprise and impose an Apartheid regime. Supporting the two-state solution means supporting an end to the Israeli occupation, which requires political action in line with international law and UN resolutions. Al-Makhrour/ Battir case also demonstrates how European companies act in blatant contradiction to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which establish responsibilities for States and Businesses, including that “Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.” Likewise, States should not allow organizations funding Israeli colonial settlements to operate from their territories, let alone enjoy “tax exemption” benefits.