Bethlehem City is hemmed in from the north by the separation wall and by the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa. Along the West of the city runs the separation barrier and the ever growing settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc. Along the eastern edge of Bethlehem is an Israeli road which limits growth of the city in this direction. At the moment the South remains open, but recent settler activity and outpost growth has started in the south of Bethlehem, choking Bethlehem but also choking any hope of peace. In a previous blog I discussed Khallet Annahlah and now I want to discuss other setttlements in the area.
Shedma was originally Ghosh Gharab military base but the Isareli Army pulled out in 2006 leaving the base empty. Situated in Area C the base is under the full control of the Israeli Military. The local Palestinian municipality applied to the Minister of defense to build a hospital and a playground, and this request remains with the military having never been approved or rejected. In response to this the area was taken over by settler organizations such as The Women in Green (Their website here – Info on the group here) who have worked to maintain a presence in the area and keep it in Jewish hands.
Graffiti giving directions to Shdema
While there is no permanent presence in the form of an outpost there are regular events and here and it remains a key priority for the group. The Women in Green claim that this is an important location as it guarantees the security of Teqoa settlement and the road and is part of the land of Eretz Yisrael which should be a jewish state. Developing it allows then the development of Jewish links from Jerusalem, through Har Homa and Shdema to Teqoa protecting this jewish land. As can be seen from this map posted on a Women in Green website Shdema is key to linking the settlements of Har Homa and Teqoa and cutting of any growth for Bethlehem, illustrating why such settlement projects undermine a two state solution.
Map from the Women in Green website showing importance of Shdema in linking Teqoa and Jerusalem and showing how Bethlehem will be hemmed in from the east.
Peace Now (an Israeli organisation campaigning against settlements) have reported that Teqoa settlement continues to grow and that new caravans have been placed in the area. Any growth in this settlement is of serious concern, both due to its location far from both the Green Line and the separation wall, and because the local Palestinian Village of Tuqu’ has already faced violence and intimidation in the past from Settlers which will only grow as the population grows. When we visited Tuqu’ the settler graffiti was still visible in the town, and the front of the village has been covered in Israeli and settler flags – marking the place as their territory in a challenge to local Palestinians . For me it was reminiscent of the painted kerbstones seen in some parts of Northern Ireland, however here it is as if you paint your neighbours’ kerbstones your own colours as an act of intimidation. In previous years there has also been attacks on Palestinians by settlers and attacks on the village’s agricultural land along with both settlers and soldiers preventing Palestinians reaching their own land.
Pictures of Israeli Flags at the entrance of the Palestinian Village (left) – Settler Graffiti inside the village (right)
As well as the actions of the settlers the village of Tuqu’ has during my time here suffered more and more raids from the Israeli Army, who come into town and cause protests which are responded to with tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. One of our first trips to the village was to meet and 11 year old boy who had been shot in the face with a rubber bullet. . There is also a heavy presence of the military at the schools of the village, claiming that children are throwing stones at cars. This team is regularly present at the girls school and junior school due to the intimidating presence of the army and the negative effect it has on the very young children . The Mayor of Tuqu’ has also reported that the main road to village, which has a permanent army post, has been closed by the army recently on several occasions, always without explanation or reason, part of the ongoing harassment of the village as a whole.
Children walking to school past Israeli Soldiers
Like Khallet Annahlah discussed in a previous post these settlements are east of the Separation Wall making any growth here not only illegal as all settlement are under the 4th Geneva Convention but also a significant threat to peace. As seen by the map above the aim is to have a clear route from Jerusalem to Teqoa. The building of settlements at Khallet Annahala would open up the possibility of creating a road across a bridgehead of Area C, completing a circle around Bethlehem from Efrata to Khallet Annahlah on to Teqoa and up, via Shdema and Har Homa into Jerusalem, creating concrete facts on the ground that will ultimately de-rail any hope of peace.