Friday, November 24, 2017

Little Wall in Bethlehem: 10 years on


By Anna Germaine - March 04, 2013
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Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
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The Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem seen from the Aida refugee camp. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

On March 1, 2003, the first slab of the Apartheid Wall was erected in Bethlehem. 10 years later, the wall snakes throughout the historic little town where Jesus was born, surrounding homes and casting ominous shadows over the nearby Aida refugee camp and in the neighboring town of Beit Jala. 

Around Aida camp, the infamous Wall is at its most imposing— measuring 14 feet in height, with tangles of barbed wire perched along the top. Most of the houses near the Wall have since been completely abandoned, as it purposefully surrounded certain houses on all three sides. Soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) survey the camp from the large watchtowers that punctuate the Wall, further policing an already heavily policed neighborhood.

This section of the Wall is also renown for its graffiti—including murals by world-renowned British street artist, Banksy.  In addition to Banksy’s famous pieces of art, a larger than life depiction of Leila Khalid—a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member who famously hijacked a plane in 1969 demanding to fly over her homeland of Palestine—holding a rifle and wearing a kuffiyeh with text reading, “The resistance will live on” splashed on one side of the Wall. Accompanying Leila’s portrait, several Palestinian women have created the “wall museum” along one particularly long stretch of the concrete barrier, mounting printed stories (in English) on alternating concrete panels of the Wall of how its presence in Bethlehem has affected their daily lives. 

Aida camp may have the most imposing presence of the Wall itself, but it is far from the only place in Bethlehem that is affected by the Wall on a daily basis. 

“Before the Wall, everyone used to work in Jerusalem—and people from Jerusalem used to come to Bethlehem and support our shops,” Issa Mussa, a member of the Tourist Police in Bethlehem told me outside of the Church of the Nativity in the heavily tourist-populated Manger Square in the center of the city. “But now almost no one in Bethlehem is able to work there because of the Wall.”

For the few Palestinians living in Bethlehem who have permission to work in Israel, they must leave Bethlehem early in the morning to queue up at Checkpoint 300—a high-security checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem that often takes three or four hours to pass through. These are the privileged few Palestinians who can legally work in Israel; the rest either sneak into Israel illegally or desperately try to find work in the West Bank. 

“If you don’t have a car to be a driver or a shop to be a shop keeper, it is very hard to have a job in Palestine,” Yousef  Abu Jamar, a cab driver from Bethlehem told me. 

For Palestinians, this extension of the Wall would mean the loss of 47 percent of Beit Jala—and the loss of the only green space in the Bethlehem municipality, including Palestine’s only vineyard

Mussa also mentions that tourism—which is the main source of Bethlehem’s starving economy now that both legal and illegal access to Jerusalem has been effectively cut off by the Wall—has decreased significantly in recent years, following both the militarization of the Palestinian territories and political unrest in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. 

“Tourists come to see the Church of the Nativity, and then they leave,” Mohammad Asmak, a shopkeeper in Bethlehem’s tourist hub Manger Square confirms. “No one comes to my shop.”

However, the Wall is not done wreaking havoc on the little town of Bethlehem. As Jessica Purkiss recently reported for the Palestine Monitor, the Wall is now slated to cut throw the lush, green Cremisan Valley adjacent to the neighboring town of Beit Jala. This placement is threatening to separate the Salesian community by placing the convent on one side of the Wall and the monastery on the other. Although the nuns of the Salesian order have joined Palestinian landowners in fighting for the Wall to be rerouted in court, the foundation for it has already been cleared through the valley. 

For Palestinians, this extension of the Wall would mean the loss of 47 percent of Beit Jala—and the loss of the only green space in the Bethlehem municipality, including Palestine’s only vineyard. Currently, the Cremisan Valley is a popular place for Palestinians to enjoy fresh air and a picnic amidst the sloping, lush hills of olive orchards and vineyards. Bethlehem’s Christian Palestinians often enjoy wine from the vineyard. However, all of this will change if the Wall is erected. 

“If the Wall goes through the Cremisan Valley, Palestinians will stop going,” Abu Jamar responded when I asked him what he thought of the proposed route through his native town of Beit Jala. In addition, any revenue from the vineyard and the winery would be drained from the Palestinian economy and reallocated to the Israeli economy, Palestinians would be forced to abandon the land and the sun kissed rolling hills of the Cremisan Valley would begin to look more like the derelict streets of Aida Refugee Camp.  




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