beit sahour

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when i finished the semester at an najah university a couple of weeks ago i moved back down to the beit lahem area where i lived in 2006 and where most of my friends live. i had planned to take my friend nora’s apartment, but the family who owns it unexpectedly had family coming from jordan so i needed to find a new apartment and i only had about four days to do so. i could have stayed in ibdaa’s guest house in deheishe refugee camp, as i have done previously, but i really needed a quiet place to write this summer. and i’ll be working there this summer teaching a class about american indians in preparation for a solidarity delegation of american indians later in the summer. when i first found out i needed to rent a new place i was still in nablus at the time, but a woman at holy land trust helped me find an amazing new apartment within about 24 hours. the other apartment was in a great location as it is across the street from badil where i’m working on a project this summer, but it was ordinary. my new apartment down the road in beit sahour is extraordinary. i think it is the most beautiful place i have ever lived in my life. the pictures here are of my new house and my new neighborhood.

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my apartment is on the edge of the old city in beit sahour, which is quiet. it shouldn’t be so quiet, but the colonization project of palestinian land has meant that many palestinians have been exiled for economic reasons and many shops have closed for the same reason. fortunately, my house is not too quiet as i love hearing the voices of children playing and music streaming in from other people’s homes while i write. the family who owns my house recently refurbished it so everything in it is new and it is done exquisitely. my grandma, who is a preservationist, would be very happy if she could see it in person. i have a lovely view of beit sahour from my balcony and not of the har homa colony that the other side of beit sahour faces.

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marim shahin’s book palestine: a guide offers a brief encapsulation of beit sahour’s history:

Nearby Beit Sahour is highlighted on the traditional tourist itinerary as the home of the Shepherds’ Fields, where the angels are said to have visited the shepherds to foretell the birth of Jesus. Few visitors are aware that there was life in Beit Sahour long before biblical times, as far back as the Bronze Age. And today, Beit Sahour is a hub for both high-tech and revolutionary Palestine.

The town’s long history of education has brought back many of its skilled youth, a high percentage of whom sensibly studied computer science, and has also made the town a leftist stronghold. During the first intifada, the people of Beit Sahour made a landmark move when they collectively refused to pay taxes to the Israeli occupation forces under the banner of “no taxation without representation.” In both the first and second uprising, the town suffered many casualties. But since tourism to Palestine began, Beit Sahour has always been on the itinerary. (364)

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activism and resistance continues in various ways, although leftist groups like pflp (as seen in the graffiti below) dominate on the city’s walls. indeed i was here a few years ago for a major pflp anniversary celebration. but resistance comes in other forms here too as my dear friend nora barrows-friedman reported last year for electronic intifada:

East of Beit Sahour in Ush Ghrab, the tree line stops and the bronze, rocky desert begins. In a flat clearing on this hilltop, a small, abandoned military post is being slowly transformed from an assorted collection of cement-grey barracks into a virtual oasis for the region’s children, families and tourists.

A former watchtower now has bright flowers painted on the roof; what was once a stark administrative office is now painted blue and pink, with a sign above the entrance reading “The Nest Cafe” in red block letters.

The revitalization of this remote area is important, local activists say, not just to reclaim land used in the past to control and intimidate the people of Beit Sahour, but also to pre-empt a possible land steal by radical Israeli settlers. Palestinians have come here with international activists, bringing with them paintbrushes and hand tools, to spark a new kind of protest movement against illegal settlement expansion. The protest is rooted in community and creativity rather than explosive confrontation.

Ush Ghrab (“Crow’s Nest” in Arabic) has witnessed multiple turnovers of military control over the last century. Because of its location, sandwiched between Bethlehem and Jerusalem with a 360-degree view of several Palestinian villages, the area served as a continuous military post first under the Ottomans, then the British, then the Jordanians, and over the last 40 years as an Israeli military base up until April 2006, when the army unilaterally withdrew from the post. Immediately after the withdrawal, Israel imposed a military control order on Ush Ghrab, but recently the municipality of Beit Sahour was able to lift the order and begin community development of the area.

Educator and local organizer Ala’a Hilu of Bethlehem tells IPS that since mid-May 2008, fundamentalist Jewish settlers have come to Ush Ghrab, camped out in the old barracks, and spray-painted racist, anti-Arab slogans on the walls, determined, he says, to establish a new settlement on this hilltop.

“[The first time] they came here, they stayed for about three days,” Hilu says, adding that the accompanying Israeli army declared the area a closed military zone and arrested Palestinians who came to protest. “Later, we came here again, and just painted over what they did. We painted everything according to peace. No political slogans, no racist words, just pictures of gardens for children. We even painted smiley faces over the settlers’ slogans.”

After this simple act of creative protest, the local community began scheduling public gatherings, picnics, bingo games and regular painting activities with international activists at Ush Ghrab. Nearly every Friday, Hilu tells IPS, armed Israeli settlers, backed by the military, show up and attempt to intimidate the group. Settlers regularly threaten them with violence.

Several weeks ago, instead of engaging in a confrontation, “we invited them to share our watermelon and argileh [water-pipe tobacco]. We said they were welcome to join us. But they didn’t join us. They were confused … We need to be here. This is to show them that this land is Palestinian, but that this place is for everyone to come and be together, to live together, to hike and enjoy the open space.”

According to community activists, plans are in the works to eventually create a viable and vibrant mixed-use commons square in Ush Ghrab. Support has been garnered from the Beit Sahour municipality, which owns the land, and funds from international aid organizations have started to trickle in.

Hilu tells IPS that current blueprints include a small children’s hospital, a library, cafe, hotel, and art gallery. Already, across the rocky path from the outpost is a brand new children’s playground with new swings and a slide, built in hope that local families will be attracted to the revitalized Ush Ghrab area.

here is a short video documenting the struggle over ush ghrab that nora talks about above:

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the zionist terrorist colony swallowing up land rapidly on the mountain top facing beit sahour, and beit lahem, is known as abu ghneim to palestinians. it used to be a beautiful forest where palestinians would picnic and enjoy the outdoors. har homa is one of those colonies that never ceases to amaze me because every time i come back here–even if i have only been gone a few weeks–it is noticeable how many new buildings have devastated the landscape and stolen more palestinian land. here is part of a report on har homa by the applied research institute in jerusalem, but you should click on the link to see the maps and statistics (though this is dated in 2007):

Har Homa (known to Palestinians ‘Abu Ghneim Mountain’) is an Illegal Israeli settlement located less than two kilometers north of the city of Bethlehem. The Israeli settlement has been built on the Palestinian-owned lands of Abu Ghneim Mountain which is historically owned by the Palestinian residents of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, as well as the villages of Um Tuba and Sur Baher. When Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the West bank in 1967, it adopted Illegal step to redefine the boundary of East Jerusalem city in a unilateral matter. The new illegal Israeli boundary included Abu Ghneim Mountain, as it was taken out of Bethlehem boundary.

Israel, and despite the International condemnation to its illegal settlements activities, continue to build and expand settlements, building thousands of housing units since the year 2000 and issue tenders for thousands more. Har Homa settlement is one location that witnessed immense expansion during the last decade and still does, even after the call in the US proposed road map to halt all settlements activities including natural growth. Pictures below show the intensified Israeli constructions in Har Homa settlement during a certain period.

An analysis performed by the Geo-Informatics Department at the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) shows an intense construction activity in Har Homa settlement. Between the years 2003 and 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Housing in corporation with the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem declared 6 tenders to build an additional 2536 new illegal housing units in Har Homa settlement. More than that, satellite images show that all constructions in Israeli in settlements are happening in those included by the Segregation Wall, in the area between the Wall and the 1949 Armistice Line. See Map 2 Table 1

Moreover, the ‘Master plan Jerusalem 2000’ shows concentration in development plans in Israeli dominated areas in East Jerusalem and within the Israeli Declared boundary of the city. This includes Har Homa settlements where two neighborhoods – sectors are planned to construct, the first of which to be located southeast of existing Har Homa, and the other to its northwest. The current standing Har Homa settlement sets on 2205 Dunums, which includes 400+ Dunums built-up area. The two new neighborhoods will set on an additional area of 1080 Dunums. All together, Har Homa and the new planned settlement’s neighborhoods will set on 3285 Dunums.

har homa zionist terrorist colony on the land of abu ghneim
har homa zionist terrorist colony on the land of abu ghneim

the rest of the photos are some that i took walking home from the grocery store the other day. the final one is from 1987 and is a classic image of resistance from the first intifada: a woman throwing a stone at the israeli terrorist forces.

beit sahour graffiti
beit sahour mural

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from the first intifada, beit sahour (from the book les palestiniens)
from the first intifada, beit sahour (from the book les palestiniens)

4 thoughts on “beit sahour

  1. Your new home is beautiful. It seems a part of the earth and the people at the same time. I am envious.
    Thanks for the story, video and pictures of Beit Ghrab. It gives me a much better understanding.

  2. beautiful, Marcy, thank you. I love the story about Ush Ghrab. Hope I can come see for myself one day.

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