Cantarow: Resistance in Bethlehem's Villages

Bethlehem_wallBelow, the opening paragraphs of Ellen Cantarow’s  Counterpunch article; you can read the full version here.

December 15, 2009

Heroism in a Vanishing Landscape

Resistance in Bethlehem’s Villages


Christmas is coming. My e-mail has returned at least one plea to help Bethlehem – Christ’s birthplace crucified by Israel’s segregation wall; 25 foot-high concrete punctuated by militarized watch towers surrounds the entire town. PEACE BE WITH YOU reads a huge legend on the wall without (apparently) the slightest trace of irony; stenciled in English. Hebrew, and Arabic, it’s signed, ISRAELI MINISTRY OF TOURISM.

What lies beyond Bethlehem – the Bethlehem province or “governate,” – is equally shocking, though invisible to the casual visitor. According to a May, 2009, UN report, Bethlehem governate’s total land mass is 660 square kilometers, but only 13 per cent remains for Palestinians to use. The rest has vanished under the Greater Israel’s ever-expanding colonies and “outposts”; its ever-lengthening wall (declared illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice: Israel and its US backer have simply ignored the ruling); and Israel’s designation of most of Bethlehem’s region as “Area C”. (The Oslo Accords diced the West Bank into Areas “A” — Palestinian Authority (PA) rule; “B” –PA and Israel joint rule; and “C” – Israeli rule. Area C is 60 per cent of the West Bank).

Palestine’s Stop the Wall campaign, launched in 2002, has been waging nonviolent resistance here to retain and regain land – weekly demonstrations in the village Al Mas’ara, land-reclamation in other villages (clearing stones, preparing the land for planting, petitioning the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture for supplies and trees), and rallying a population exhausted by over three decades of “peace process” that has meant only land-theft for the Palestinians.

Stop the Wall was launched by activists like 65-year-old Sharif Omar Khalid whose roots go back to Palestine’s Land Defense Committee (a nonviolent movement begun in 1980), and younger activists who cut their teeth organizing the first Intifada (1987-1990). 46-year-old Jamal Juma, the Campaign’s coordinator, says that when Israel began building the wall in 2002, he and other activists realized an unprecedented danger.

“We saw that this was a huge political project,” he commented this past October. “The whole country [Palestine] was under siege, all the villages . . . We [began] building a movement against the wall”. The campaign built popular committees in villages menaced by the wall. From 52 of these in 2005 it has consolidated into ten committees, governing a region (the Bethlehem region is one). The campaign can’t possibly cover the entire Palestinian population so it focuses on “hot spots” – places where the wall intrudes or is about to be extended, and land where settlers and soldiers harass villagers.

(… ctd. here)

Ellen Cantarow, a Boston-based journalist, has written from Israel and the West Bank since 1979. This article is part two of a series, “Heroism in a Vanishing Landscape,”about non-violent Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. She can be reached at

For a comprehensive argument that land-seizure is meant not for “security,” but for expanding Israel’s borders, see this report by B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

For a description of Palestinian architectural restoration now underway in 50 villages see RIWAQ – Center for Architectural Conservation –

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