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Israeli Settlements in the Ramallah & Al-Bireh Governorate
Israeli Settlements in the Ramallah & Al-Bireh Governorate
Steeped in tradition, Ramallah & Al-Bireh Governorate (RBG) is a highly regarded tourist destination in Palestine. Located approximately 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem, it was historically connected with Al Lydd, Ramleh, and Jaffa on the Mediterranean Coast. Unfortunately, Palestine’s Nakba of 1948 forcibly severed these connections.
Following the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel, the occupying Power, began implementing colonial policies aimed at seizing and annexing more Palestinian land. Since 1967, more than a dozen illegal colonial settlements have been established in and around RBG, encircling neighboring cities and towns. This media brief highlights the severe consequences of the ongoing Israeli annexation process in RBG.
Ramallah City in Palestine’s History
Ramallah may be a relatively new city by Palestinian standards, having been established in the 16th century, but the area is teeming with archaeological sites from different historical periods. Of particular relevance to Christian history is its place on the summer route believed to have been taken by the Holy Family between Jerusalem and Nazareth. This route includes sites such as the ruins of the Byzantine "Church of the Holy Family" in Al Bireh City, Byzantine ruins in the Al Teereh neighborhood of Ramallah, the Old City of Birzeit, the Saint George Church in Taybeh, the shrine of Saint Barbara in Aboud, and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church. The latter is one of the oldest functioning churches in the world, dating back to the year 328. There are also significant Muslim shrines in the area, including Al-Nabi Samuel to the south and Al-Nabi Saleh to the north. These are part of ancient Muslim pilgrimage routes to Palestine, adding to the cultural and historical richness of the region.
Ramallah has been a popular summer resort for tourists from the Arab world for decades, thanks to its pleasant climate and strategic location in the hills of central Palestine. Its proximity to Jerusalem, the Mediterranean Sea, Jericho, and the Jordanian border also makes it an attractive destination. During a significant part of the 20th century, Ramallah benefited from investments made by Palestinian immigrants who settled mainly in the United States. This helped to establish Ramallah and its neighboring villages as a vital connection between Palestine and the United States. The Friends School in Ramallah, founded by the Quakers in 1857, is one of the most prestigious schools in Palestine. Additionally, the Episcopal Church provided significant support for the establishment of Birzeit Primary School in 1924, which later became a College, then a University in 1972.
Following the Nakba of 1948, Zionist gangs forcibly displaced thousands of refugees to the east of the Greenline, barring them from returning. Since then, four refugee camps were established in and around Ramallah city, including Al Am'ari, Al Jalazone, and Qalandia, all of which are recognized by UNRWA. There is also an unrecognized camp called Qaddoura. In June 1967, Israel occupied the entire West Bank, marking another significant shift in the city’s demographics and geography. This occupation furthered its illegal colonial enterprise, which has been detrimental consequences for the Palestinian population.
Israel’s Colonial Settlement Enterprise
Since 1967, the Israeli occupation has implemented policies to fragment Palestinians, including separating Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank. This has severely impacted the governorates of Bethlehem, south of the city, and RBG, north of Jerusalem.
In the case of RBG, the separation began with the suspension of regular operations at the Jerusalem International Airport (built on lands belonging to Qalandia village), which had previously connected Palestine with Beirut, Damascus, Amman, Kuwait, Baghdad, Cairo, and many other capitals. In contrast, Israel started constructing two settlements, "Neve Yakov" and "Pisgat Zeev," aimed at severing connections between RBG and Jerusalem. Additionally, the colonial industrial area of "Atarot" was established. To encompass all three settlements under the jurisdiction of the illegitimate Jerusalem Municipality, the occupying Power unilaterally expanded the city’s boundaries as part of its primary strategy to annex more Palestinian land.
Moreover, the occupation has built settlements close to military bases, such as "Beit El" and "Psagot," mainly on land owned by Palestinians from Al-Bireh, and the prison of “Ofra.” Other important settlements include "Halamish" to the northwest of Birzeit, "Ofra" separating villages east of Ramallah, and "Modi'in Illit" to the west, with a current population of about 81,000 settlers.
During 2023, the Israeli occupation "legalized" two colonial installations (outposts) in the northern RBG, namely "Giv'at Haroeh" and "Giv'at Harel." Both consist of almost 100 settlement units. Additionally, the Israeli occupation has initiated projects in various settlements in the RBG, such as "Beit Aryeh," "Rimonim," "Dolev," "Talmon," and "Geva Binyamin," situated on all sides around Ramallah. Other projects that have been initiated that impact the RBG include those in the illegal settlements of "Giv'at Zeev" and "Atarot." These projects effectively separate the governorate from Jerusalem.
Consequently, 26 illegal colonial settlements are located in and around RBG, home to nearly 150,000 settlers, equivalent to over 20% of the settler population across the occupied West Bank.
Israeli Settlers’ Terror Attacks and Military Raids1
The Israeli occupation forces carry out daily raids on Palestinian cities and villages, often providing protection for settler terrorists who attack Palestinians and their properties. Palestinian villages deeply affected by Israel’s colonial expansion and the Annexation Wall, such as Nabi Saleh, Bili’in, and Ni’ilin, are some of the most important targets of these routine attacks by the Israeli occupation.
During the first month of the Netanyahu/Ben Gvir government in January, there were several attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the Ramallah & Al-Bireh governorate:
- On 4 January, settlers near Turmus 'Ayya town attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones.
- On 7 January, settlers broke into Palestinian agricultural lands in Al-Mughayyer town, sprayed toxic chemicals and herbicides on olive seedlings, stole 50 tanks and 30-meter wires, and damaged about 150 seedlings.
- On 9 January, settlers near the junction of the illegal settlement “Shilo” stoned Palestinian vehicles driving on the Ramallah-Nablus main road.
- On 16 January, settlers positioned on the main road near Al-Mughayyer town attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones.
- On 21 January, a settler positioned in Al-Risan mountain near Ras Karkar village fatally shot Palestinian citizen Tareq Ma’ali (42 years old), a resident of Kufur Ni’meh town.
- On 23 January, settlers near Sinjil town attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones, damaging a car. On the same day, settlers near the entrance of Beitin village also attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones.
- On 28 January, settlers near the junction of Taybeh town physically assaulted two Palestinian brothers, Haytham and Amjad Ka’abneh, leaving them injured with bruises and also destroying a tractor. Settlers near the same junction also attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones. On the same day, settlers near Turmus 'Ayya town damaged an ambulance.
- On 29 January, settlers broke into Turmus 'Ayya town, set two houses on fire, attacked three houses, and sprayed anti-Palestinian graffiti on the walls. Settlers positioned near the checkpoint of the “Beit Eil” illegal settlement in northern Al Bireh attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones. Settlers near the entrance of Safa village also attacked a number of Palestinian citizens, and those near the entrance of Beitin village again attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones.
- On 30 January, settlers near the entrance of Sinjil town attacked a Palestinian home and set a car on fire, while those positioned on the road leading to the “Beit Eil” illegal settlement attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones. Settlers near the junction of E’yun Al Haramiyeh on the Ramallah-Nablus main road attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones. The same day, settlers also broke into the agricultural lands of Sinjil town and cut a number of olive trees belonging to citizen Ahmad Khalil.
- On 31 January, settlers broke into the industrial area in Al- Bireh city, damaged the tires of three vehicles, and sprayed anti-Palestinian graffiti on the vehicles and walls.
U.S. Funding of Israeli Settlements
In addition to the United States providing official funding of 3.8 billion dollars annually to Israel, which includes weapons used to support Israel's colonial and apartheid regime, several organizations in the U.S. fundraise for the benefit of Israeli settlements. Many of these donations are directed toward settlements in RBG. Notable among these organizations2 is the "American Friends of Bet El," which was once headed by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel- David Friedman. Besides providing significant funds to illegal settlements, this organization has donated to even more extremist groups, such as the "Qomeiyut" group. From 2009 to 2013, U.S. charities contributed 220 million dollars to Israeli settlements alone.
Those working towards the annexation of occupied Palestinian territory also actively promote settlement businesses in U.S. markets. One of the prominent products sold in the U.S. market is the wine from the illegal settlement of “Psagot,” located on Al-Bireh's land, including confiscated property belonging to Palestinian-American citizens. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited this settlement, and current U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband offered a Seder dinner with wine from this settlement. “Psagot” settlement produces 750,000 bottles of wine each year, with over 70% being sold globally, including in the United States, Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Panama, Brazil, and Australia.
Ramallah has been hailed as an example of Palestine's potential for years. However, the reality is that Ramallah is at the heart of Israeli attempts to destroy any prospects for a political solution. Under Israel’s prolonged military occupation, the RBG is deprived of its natural resources, including land, water, and oil, all for the benefit of the occupying Power’s colonial enterprise.
The current Israeli government is advancing plans, approved during the Lapid/Gantz administration, to build 9,400 settlement units over the Jerusalem International Airport, effectively blocking the historic road to Jerusalem. Such threats to Palestinian rights and a political solution should be at the forefront of the international agenda. Rather than being an example of Palestine's potential, the Israeli occupation has turned the RBG into an example of its vicious efforts to consolidate colonization and apartheid.