Israeli restrictions, separation wall and settlements are virtually suffocating the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, restricting its growth, undermining its economy and compromising its future, the UN has warned.
"Israeli measures have radically reduced the space available to the inhabitants of Bethlehem, compromising the future economic and social development of the governorate," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said in a report released on Thursday, May 7.
The document examines the combined impact of annexation, the separation wall, mushrooming Jewish settlements, settler bypass roads and closed military zones built on Arab lands on Palestinians in Bethlehem.
"After four decades of Israeli occupation only approximately 13 percent of the Bethlehem governorate’s land is available for Palestinian use, much of it fragmented."
The OCHA asserted that the restrictions, particularly the wall that isolates the city from Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem), are literally "suffocating" Bethlehem’s central-urban core.
"As a result, Bethlehem’s potential for residential and industrial expansion and development has been reduced, as well as its access to natural resources."
Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is home to about 175,000 Palestinians, including many Christians.
There are now at least 86,000 Jewish settlers living in 19 settlements built in and around the city.
The UN report highlights the sufferings of many villages in Bethlehem.
One of the villages, Nu’man, is already "living in limbo" under the Israeli oppressive measures.
"Following completion of the barrier, the village is now surrounded on three sides," it notes.
"A military checkpoint was established at the entrance to the village in May 2006, at which residents’ names are registered. Regular delays and humiliation are reported at the checkpoint."
The report underlines that as a result of their isolation, the village’s 173 people have no shops, school, mosque or health facilities.
"The combined restrictions have segregated the village from neighboring communities and obstructed normal family life."
Public transportation has ceased and most service providers are prevented from entering or no longer come because of delay and harassment at the Israeli checkpoint.
"It’s a tragedy," says Ibrahim Darawi, 61, a Nu’man resident, who teaches geography at Al-Quds University.
"The old will die and the young will leave."
The UN report demands that Israel halts construction of the rest of the separation wall, open up military zones and nature reserves for Palestinian development and freeze settlement expansions.
"These types of immediate steps would contribute to ensuring compliance with international law and UN resolutions and lay the groundwork for a durable political solution in the occupied Palestinian territory."
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)