UN report highlights 'shrinking space' for Palestinians in Bethlehem

Israel's separation wall in Bethlehem

7 May 2009 – Israeli measures have reduced the amount of land available in Bethlehem for Palestinian use, limited the area’s access to resources and restricted its potential for development, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says in a new report.

“Shrinking Space: Urban Contraction and Rural Fragmentation in the Bethlehem Governorate,” examines how Israeli measures – such as the Barrier, settlements and closures – have impacted Palestinian livelihoods, development and residential expansion in Bethlehem, which comprises approximately 660 kilometres.

“The space available to the Palestinian population in the Bethlehem governorate has been significantly constricted by Israeli measures such as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and their outposts,” states the report.

These measures have reduced Bethlehem’s development space, limited its access to resources, severed Bethlehem’s historic links to Jerusalem and restricted the urban area’s potential for residential and industrial expansion, it adds.

The report notes that the traditional mainstays of the Bethlehem economy such as work in Israel, tourism, agriculture herding and the private sector have been undermined.

Only 13 per cent of land in Bethlehem is available for Palestinian use, and much of it is fragmented, the report shows. In addition, Israel retains security control and jurisdiction over building and planning in 66 per cent of the governorate.

Also, the Barrier route in Bethlehem reaches 10 kilometres into the West Bank. If completed, it will cut off some of the most fertile cultivated land in the governorate as well as 21,000 Palestinian villagers from the urban centre, according to the report.

As of now, the report says, around 175,000 Palestinians live in the Bethlehem governorate. Since 1967, some 86,000 Israelis have also been settled there, and they live in 19 settlements and 16 settlement outposts.

OCHA also outlines steps that can be taken to prevent further deterioration, including halting construction of the Barrier inside the West Bank, opening closed military areas and nature reserves for sustainable Palestinian development, and freezing settlement construction.

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