Political background of the 20th and 21st centuries

Saturday, July 27, 2013
According to the administrative scheme established under the British Mandate, Bethlehem was part of the Jerusalem district.

Then in November of 1947, as part of their Partition Resolution (G.A. 181), the United Nations intended to deal with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem enclave as a “Corpus Separatum” of 186 square kilometres, territory having a special status and to be maintained under international administration. In the fighting of 1948, however, Israel took control of 78% of Mandate Palestine (including West Jerusalem) while the Bethlehem district came under Jordanian administration, until 1967. On the 5th of June 1967, Israel occupied the rest of historic (Mandatory) Palestine and shortly thereafter annexed East Jerusalem. Over the years the Israelis have repeatedly expanded the municipal boundaries until today Jerusalem is more than 10 times its pre-1948 size (and includes 70 square kilometres east of the 1949-67 “Green Line”). In the process, the Israelis redrew the administrative boundaries of the neighbouring Palestinian districts and simply expropriated large tracts of their land. In short, as a result of this expansion of Jerusalem, the Bethlehem Governorate lost large parts of its original lands. Then, over the last four decades of occupation Israel has confiscated a further 18 square kilometres or more from the lands of the Bethlehem Governorate, for the construction of illegal settlements, outposts and bypass roads (ARIJ database 2006: 18-19).

According to the Oslo II agreement that was signed in 1995 between the Israelis and the Palestinians, all West Bank territory was assigned to one of three administrative areas: Area A, under complete Palestinian civil and security control; Area B, under Palestinian civil control but Israeli security control; or Area C, under complete Israeli civil and security control. Based on this agreement, only 7.8% of the Bethlehem Governorate is designated Area A, 5.5% as Area B, while fully 69.7% is Area C, under full Israeli control. And, what was envisioned as a transitional arrangement leading to a Palestinian state is now firmly entrenched. Beginning in April 2002, Israeli military forces re-entered the West Bank and placed all three above-mentioned areas under their direct control, a situation which has now been mostly alleviated (compare Al-Houdalieh 2009: 338-339; ARIJ database 2006: 20).

According to the same Oslo agreement, the lands of Beit Sahur were split between Areas A and C. The majority of the urban space was designated Area A, while the town's agricultural lands, open spaces, and a small part of the urban area fell in Area C. De facto, the Beit Sahur residents are not allowed to build upon, cultivate or harvest, or derive benefit in any way from their land in Area C unless they obtain permits – which is extremely difficult – from the Israeli Civil Administration. The following table shows the distribution of the lands of Beit Sahur, by Area.


% of the total city area








In April of 2002, the Israeli government announced its intention to construct a separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian National Territories; they started construction in June of the same year. This separation barrier was planned to stretch in length a total of some 650 km. It has been constructed as either an 8m-high concrete wall or a 60 to 80m-wide fortified corridor comprised of layers of barbed wire fencing, military patrol roads, trenches, and a 4 to 5m-high metal fence fitted with electronic sensors and security cameras. Approximately 85% of this barrier, instead of following any recognized border, has been built on the eastern (Palestinian) side of the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line). This wall/barrier has thus resulted in the seizing of some of the most fertile Palestinian land, seriously undermining the territorial contiguity of Palestinian settled areas, cutting off many Palestinian communities in enclaves, usurping natural resources, and isolating a large number of heritage resources from their cultural context (compare Al-Houdalieh 2006: 108; ARIJ database 2006: 21). Locally, the construction of this barrier (here, almost exclusively a wall) has meant the confiscation by Israel of about 73 square kilometres of the Bethlehem Governorate's land.

As in many other places throughout the Palestinian National Territories, the Israeli government began constructing the separation wall on the land of Beit Sahur in 2002 (Fig. 1). Since then, it has issued several military orders confiscating more and more land from the municipality. Based on an updated plan published on the web page of the Israel Ministry of Defence in 2007, the Israelis had then already confiscated about 25.8% of the land of Beit Sahur for exclusive Israeli use.


Fig. 1: The separation wall built on Beit Sahur's land, looking north. Source: the authors, 2012.

Furthermore, several Israeli settlements, settlement outposts and bypass roads are constructed on the lands of Beit Sahur. The major settlement on Beit Sahur land is called by the Israelis HarHoma. This extensive hilltop site, whose real name is Jabal (“mountain of”) Abu Ghuneim, had long been classified as a nature reserve, however the Israelis re-classified it in 1997 as a construction area. Accordingly, Israeli bulldozers uprooted some 60,000 trees in the process of preparing the area for a massive building project. Today HarHoma, now conveniently annexed to the Jerusalem municipality, is the third largest settlement in terms of land area of the 19 settlements established in the Bethlehem Governorate.

At the same time, the Israeli occupation authorities routinely forbid Palestinian land-owners from building upon or improving their property in any way. Over the past 18 years (since Oslo) they have issued numerous military orders that direct the Palestinian owners to halt any attempted construction, under threat of demolition, or sometimes to demolish their completed homes by their own hands by a given date, usually only a few days. This regime of prohibition is founded on the pretext that the residents live in Area C and lack the required permits – permits which, when requested, are almost never granted.

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This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the members of the ARCHEOMED Project Consortium and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.