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Blog from Bethlehem
Toine van Teeffelen
Lately a rumor spread that a new yeshiva or school for Jewish studies would be established right opposite the Sumud Story House next to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. You never know how serious such speculation is. Israel may have planted the rumor so as to prepare or test the residents of Bethlehem. The occupation works by keeping the Situation unpredictable!
But I would not be surprised if it happens. The area in front of the House is privately owned yet made inaccessible to its owners – Palestinians from the Bethlehem area and the Armenian church - except for a limited number of days in the year. A few years ago I heard from Mary’s uncle, one of the land owners, that the land was actually turned into ‘absentee property’. Of course, the absentees were not absent out of their own free will. The change of status appeared to be the final stage before a full take over.
That take over will make it possible for Israel to further expand in the direction of the Hebron Road in Bethlehem, such as by way of establishing a yeshiva.
While contemplating this, the dynamics of settlement building reminds me somehow of a game. Actually, the settlement expansion into the West Bank is a combination of the Chinese Go game and chess.
The Go game is about gradually surrounding more territory than the opponent.
This is what is happening in northern Bethlehem. An Israeli Planning and Construction Committee recently approved the construction of 770 housing units in Gilo just to the north of Beit Jala, west of Bethlehem. According to the Israeli liberal paper Haaretz, the approval was not final. The settlement process typically moves on gradually as Israel looks for the politically right time to make settlement-related moves taking into account, or test, international reactions.
The expansion of Gilo would further surround Bethlehem on the north. The settlement ring there will be closed by the building of a completely new settlement, Givat Hamatos. The area where it will be built, opposite the monastery of Mar Elias, was once used for a so-called ‘Holland village’ – a group of makeshift houses where during the 1990s at its peak some 2000 people lived, including new Jewish immigrants - especially black Ethiopians. It was a project supported by the Dutch Reverend Glashouwer, as part of a fundamentalist Christian initiative. Now the plan, in its final stages, is to have there a settlement with 4000 housing units. Givat Hamatos would link Gilo with Har Homa to the north of Bethlehem/Beit Sahour.
Israel’s Go game is about surrounding Palestinian urban areas and linking Israeli settlements, and also about delinking Palestinian urban areas. For instance, as a result of the new settlement expansion, the Palestinian neighborhood Beit Safafa inside the Jerusalem municipality will become isolated and further disconnected from Bethlehem.
In addition to connecting and disconnecting, the settlement process contains a dimension of penetration.
I associate penetration with the chess game. In my youth I used to play chess, and a moment of supreme pleasure in the game happened when you were able to plant a piece deep inside the adversary’s territory, paralyzing the other’s freedom of movement.
This happens in real life here with the settlements planted in downtown Hebron, and at Rachel’s Tomb. A yeshiva school next to Rachel’s Tomb would be another such move deep into urban Palestinian territory. Noticing how the whole of north Bethlehem is torn apart by Rachel’s Tomb and its surrounding walls, the tactic is clear.
Dozens of outpost settlements in the West Bank, illegal even under Israeli law (but from the start supported by infrastructural operations of the state), have been built on private Palestinian land. These outposts often penetrate into the lands that are still left for a contiguous Palestinian state. At present Israeli politics is on the verge of legalizing 55 of these outpost settlements in the expectation that American president elect Trump will not oppose this.
No wonder that according to the latest public opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza, two-third of Palestinians there have lost their belief in a two-state solution, and anticipate a deepening of the apartheid-like situation in the West Bank.