Israel has both effectively and officially overtaken northern
Bethlehem, swallowing the entire Rachel’s Tomb area. The process was
slow enough, ongoing for the past two years, however it all occurred
with very little fuss. Those that did protest were gassed, shot at,
imprisoned, or ignored.
Now historic Bethlehem is entirely cut off from its twin city Jerusalem by a kilometer stretch of the Wall. Hundreds of shops, factories, cultural institutions, religious and social centers, and residential homes were either confiscated or annexed to Jerusalem and under complete Israeli control.
Although Rachel’s Tomb has been a military installation for years, it looks quite different now surrounded by the Wall and higher sniper towers. The Israeli government confiscated what was once northern Bethlehem and is converting it into a militarized Jewish enclave like any settlement in the West Bank.
An official Israeli spokesperson announced Friday that control of the region has been transferred from army control into the custody of border guards and police overseen by the Israeli controlled Jerusalem Municipality. This indicates that the confiscation is complete. Israelis no longer need obtain permits from their government in order to travel into the West Bank if they want to go to Rachel’s Tomb.
Northern Bethlehem is no longer in the West Bank according to the Israeli announcement and the new facts on the ground. Northern Bethlehem is not even in Bethlehem. It is now in Israel where Jerusalem is, the future capital of the Palestinian state.
Bethlehem’s Mayor, Dr. Victor Batarsa denounced the Israeli actions as contravening international law and any sense of justice. There is no logic in the international silence in a world that refers to itself as “free,” yet stands by and watches without a word. The Israeli government just confiscated 14 percent of the birthplace of Christ.
Dr. Batarsa explained that the Bethlehem Municipality sent formal protests to foreign consuls in the region alerting them to the Israeli unilateral steps that converted the city of Bethlehem into a closed canton, confined and surrounded all sides.
Fourteen percent of the historic city was confiscated for the sole benefit of the occupying Israeli state. This damages all Christians, the Mayor continued. We have all been raped, including the Vatican, the Pope, Arab states, and all the mayors and their cities worldwide that are sister cities with Bethlehem. He stressed that once again a major obstacle is thrown in the face of the so-called peace process.
Hassan Abed Rabbo of the Factional Coordinating Committee maintains that the Israeli procedures in overtaking northern Bethlehem were done in relative silence. The Wall takes a chunk, the new “border crossing” checkpoint takes another, the soldiers and settlers occupying even more space. All of it was done under the auspices of “security,” and northern Bethlehem has become southern Jerusalem, according to the Israeli government. And it has already overtaken Jerusalem.