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New Struggle in Beit Sahour

The New Statesman reports on a budding protest movement in one of the historic centers of Palestinian protest, Beit Sahour. Like many of the campaigns we follow here, it is resistance to an attempted takeover by settlers.

Ush al Ghrab (‘Crow’s Nest’) is a small piece of land being targeted by a group of Jewish settlers and their allies. The area had previously served as a military base, before being evacuated in 2006. Since then, local Palestinians and international NGOs have sought to make the most of the space, in a community whose natural expansion is prohibited by Israeli colonisation. In recent times, right-wing Jewish settlers have targeted the area as a site for a possible new settlement (‘Shdema’).”

The protests are being organized by Mazin Qumsiyeh, a “professor, author, and Beit Sahour resident”  who is on the board of the US Campaign to End the Occupation.

“The Bethlehem area is now surrounded by settlements — to take this area will be finishing off the district.” Qumsiyeh’s fears are borne out by the statistics: only a fragmented 13 per cent of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use.

The Israeli military is at least somewhat supportive of the settlers, building a guardtower on the land they covet that will presumably help protect their efforts. However, the author draws three lessons from the episode:

Firstly, there is the relationship between settlers and the military. On countless occasions recorded by human rights groups, settler fanatics have attacked Palestinians and their property with impunity, in front of Israeli soldiers. In Ush al Ghrab, under pressure from the settler movement, the Israeli military has facilitated their repeated visits, and now, has made the decision to establish permanent infrastructure.

Secondly, the tussle over Ush al Ghrab is also a legacy of how the Oslo Accords of the early-mid 1990s divided up the Occupied Palestinian Territories into Areas A, B, C, helping to define the limits of Palestinian ‘autonomy’ until today. As the UN has documented, everyday Palestinian existence, including the ability to build, is severely restricted by Israel in 60 per cent — Area C — of the West Bank. Ush al Ghrab also shows just how harmful, and ridiculous, the categorisation can be, even dividing parts of the same town.

Thirdly, the case of Ush al Ghrab, and the rationale offered by those settlers keen to make sure that ‘Shdema’ becomes the latest colony around Bethlehem, is a microcosm of official Israeli state policy in Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and indeed, inside Israel itself). The aim is to prevent the emergence of Palestinian territorial contiguity and development, breaking up areas of Palestinian population into more ‘manageable’ enclaves.”

The article ends by calling on international support. We have seen time and again how such support makes all the difference to encouraging Palestinians to participate and eventually causing Israeli allies to emerge. Hopefully this is the first of many such protests and it will spread to more towns.

See video of Israeli troops attacking Sunday mass protesting military installation in Beit Sahour.

Written by

JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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