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[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ] > > Bethlehem to be encircled in steel as 'security fence' snakes its way > around holy city > > By Justin Huggler in Bethlehem > 20 December 2003 - Independent > > http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=474863 > > "We're not celebrating Christmas this year," says Yaqub Kasis, a > member of Bethlehem's dwindling community of Palestinian Christians. > > It should be a time of celebration for the city where Christ was born. > Unlike last year, this Christmas there are no Israeli soldiers in > Bethlehem's streets and the tanks have gone. "This Christmas is > quieter than before," Mr Kasis says. "But it's worse. It's worse > because of the wall." > > Israel's "security fence" has arrived in Bethlehem. It snakes through > the suburbs, close to the old stone houses. But the term "fence" is > misleading. The section built in Bethlehem is made up of a triple > layer concrete wall and two metal fences, one equipped with electronic > sensors. The space between the two fences is patrolled by Israeli army > jeeps. Israel is building hundreds of miles of fence across the West > Bank. The pilgrims who travelto Bethlehem for Christmas this year will > find that the city of Christ's birth is being walled off. Fears are > growing that the city may soon be surrounded. The Israeli army says > that the wall will not encircle the city - one quarter will remain > open to the West Bank, it says. > > But the Palestinian group Arij, which monitors Israeli construction in > the West Bank, claims that the Israelis are planning to close the last > quarter with two bypass roads. One road has already been completed > near the north-eastern edge of the city and is cut off by its own > protective fence. The Israelis say the new roads will be open to > Palestinians, but Dr Jad Isaac, the head of Arij, says that even if > they are, they will separate Bethlehem from its farmland and prevent > expansion. "They are turning Bethlehem into a ghetto," he says. > > It is a fate which has already befallen the Palestinian cities of > Qalqilya and Tulkarem further north in the West Bank. Qalqilya is > surrounded by a concrete wall complete with pillboxes from which > Israeli soldiers look down on the city. The only way in and out is > through Israeli army checkpoints. > > Israel says the wall will stop suicide bombers crossing from the West > Bank into Israel. "If that were true, why don't they build it on the > Green Line?" says Dr Isaac. The Israeli government refuses to build > the fence on the Green Line, the internationally recognised border > between the West Bank and Israel. Instead, it cuts many miles into the > West Bank, so that Jewish settlements can be included on the "Israeli" > side. > > International observers, including President George Bush's National > Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, claim that Israel is attempting to > establish a new de facto border. Last week, the Israeli Deputy Prime > Minister, Ehud Olmert, said he wanted Israel to withdraw unilaterally > from part of the West Bank and set its own borders. In an ultimatum to > the Palestinians on Thursday, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime > Minister, warned he would embark on a "unilateral separation" plan > within months if the Palestinians failed to arrest the gunmen and the > suicide bombers as part of a negotiated peace. "If you look at the map > you can see what Olmert is saying," says Dr Isaac. "They are saying > that a Palestinian state will be limited to 40 per cent of the West > Bank and Gaza Strip, crammed into separate cantons." > > Palestinians who live outside the planned route of the fence face an > uncertain future. Where the fence has been completed, the Israeli army > has ordered that only Palestinians with permits can live between the > fence and the Green Line. These permits will be issued at the > discretion of the Israeli army. But the order exempts not only Israeli > citizens but anyone of Jewish origin. > > The situation is just as bleak for those inside the fence. The Israeli > army wants to demolish Mr Kasis's home in Beit Sahour, a suburb of > Bethlehem with a large Christian population, to make way for the > fence. "If they demolish it, I will live on the rubble," says Mr > Kasis. "I have nowhere else to take my children." Mr Kasis used to > work in Israel, but since the Israeli military closures that have been > imposed during the intifada, he has been unemployed. Mr Kasis lives on > land that was given free for new housing by the Greek Orthodox > Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He invested his savings in the cooperative > that built his home. The fence will increase Bethlehem's economic > problems. Workers will no longer be able to cross illegally into > Israel in search of jobs. > > Those living near the fence will not be the only ones to suffer, Dr > Isaac said. The land either side of the proposed route was set aside > for the city's future development. If Bethlehem is completely > enclosed, he says, the population will become increasingly crammed in > as it continues togrow. Bethlehem could come to resemble the already > fenced Gaza Strip, where the cities cannot expand and the population > density is 4,500 people per square kilometre - one of the world's most > crowded places. > > The fence has accelerated another of Bethlehem's problems: the > Palestinians are leaving. Many feel that their future in the city is > stark and are applying for visas for America or Europe. Mr Kasis has > two relatives who have already left. Several of his friends have left > too. It seems everyone in Beit Sahour knows someone who has left. They > say as many as 1,000 families have left Beit Sahour since the intifada > began in September 2000. > > George Ibrahim, a Christian who is preparing to leave for Sweden, > said: "I don't want to leave. I don't support leaving. I am doing it > in spite of myself. When I look at my children, I think, 'I don't have > the right to make them suffer this life'." > > It is easier for Palestinian Christians to get visas and work permits > than Muslims. Many have relatives in Europe and the US, and tend to be > more highly educated and better qualified than Muslims. Bethlehem's > Christian population is, therefore, in danger of disappearing. > > Mr Kasis said: "Can you imagine Bethlehem without Christians? The > Church of the Nativity without Christians?". He looks from his balcony > to where the route of the fence is being prepared. "That's why they > are doing this," he said. "To make us leave." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk