15 March 2012
Editorial note – Cathy Peters is a Greens Councillor for Marrickville Council. She has written the following after returning to Australia from her January visit to Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine. She is writing this as a private person.
Driving into Bethlehem isn’t easy. But any movement around the West Bank is curtailed by checkpoints that work to thwart, frustrate and intimidate anyone seeking to travel even very short distances. The huge omnipresent Separation Wall combines with these checkpoints to constantly enforce the permanency of the Occupation – shocking in its scale and shocking in its mute imprisonment of an entire population.
Finally we get through and drive past the iconic graffiti and art works on the Palestinian side of the Wall. These works speak loudly of the injustices lived daily by all Palestinians.
The Wall has made Bethlehem a prison for it’s citizens and deterred many thousands of tourists. It’s resulted in Bethlehem registering the highest unemployment in the West Bank and hundreds are now are forced to cue for hours at checkpoints waiting to travel short distances to work outside the city. In the city, only a few tourist retailers are open and most businesses are boarded up.
A couple of boys sell coffee in the cold in the car park – they don’t bother to smile when we ask to take their photo – we’re offering nothing that will change their lives and they know it.
Bethlehem originally extended to 31 square kilometres in diameter but now only spans 5.7 square kilometres as settler land theft and the expanding Wall perimeters have continually eaten away Palestinian territory.
There are some 22 Israeli colonies ringing this historic city and these house about 87,000 illegal residents who use Jewish only roads and attend Jewish only schools and shops and use up to 82% of the available water resources.
And according to Bethlehem’s mayor, Victor Batarseh, all the city’s agricultural land has been confiscated. Land that was owned by hundreds of families from Bethlehem and land that provided a living for generations of Palestinians.
This land confiscation has continued relentlessly as the Wall delineates the territory colonised by illegal settlements. In January this year, another 7000 dunams (7,000 square meters) of land was stolen. This was agricultural land that used to grow centuries old olive trees.
We leave the city centre not in awe of it’s Christian heritage but silenced by the reality of life in Bethlehem now in 2012.