Israeli government officials gave the final approval on Tuesday to a plan that will expand the ‘Gilo’ settlement, near Bethlehem, by 900 units. Gilo, like all Israeli settlements constructed on Palestinian land in the West Bank, is considered illegal under international law.When Gilo was first constructed, Palestinians in the Bethlehem area responded with non-violent resistance and legal challenges, but the Israeli settlement construction continued unabated. Nearby, behind a massive concrete Wall constructed by the Israeli military, is the Aida refugee camp where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees cast out of what is now Israel live cramped together in extremely cramped conditions.

The village of Budrus, just a few hundred meters from the Israeli settlement, has been completely encircled by the Wall, supposedly to ‘protect’ the Israeli settlers as they continue their expansion in and around the village land. Palestinians from the village of Budrus have held almost-weekly non-violent protests against the Annexation Wall for the last several years, but to no avail – the Wall construction around their village has continued.

Nearby, the town of Beit Jala (population 12,000) is threatened by the expansion of not just the settlement of Gilo, but also of two other Israeli settlements: Har Gilo and Giv’at Hamatos. Beit Jala is a mainly Christian town, with 7,000 Greek Orthodox, 2,500 Roman Catholics, 2,000 Muslims and 500 Protestants. But Christian Palestinians say that Israeli settlements threaten their areas just as much as Muslim areas.

The decision to allow the expansion of Gilo by 900 houses was made by the Jerusalem municipal government run by the Israeli government, despite the fact that the settlement is not in Jerusalem, but is across the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank known as the Green Line, and is constructed on land stolen from the Bethlehem municipality.

Although the US government did voice ‘dismay’ over the proposal, US officials did not indicate that the Obama administration planned to actually do anything about it.

Meanwhile, Moshe Ben Shushan, the head of the Gilo government, challenged the US government’s ‘dismay’, saying that ‘this is a trend of interference in Israel’s policies. I have never thought of Gilo as a settlement.’