Bethlehem Besieged: Checkpoints in the Birthplace of Jesus

Visualizing Palestine

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In years past, Bethlehem has been an agricultural market, a significant pilgrim and tourist centre, and a trade town closely linked to Jerusalem. When Israel’s occupation of West Bank started in 1967, this link was cut off for the first time in 2000 years, impeding pilgrimage to holy sites, and Bethlehem today is surrounded by a landscape dotted with gun turrets and barbed wire. Historic stone and stucco buildings are eclipsed not by its poetic terrain of steep hills and abundant pastures, but by the eight-meter-high segregation wall which snakes over 80 kilometers into the district, used by Israel to illegally annex territory.

Palestinian Christians are not immune to dispossession and oppression as part of the ongoing Israeli occupation, and many have been forced to emigrate from one of the holiest places of Christianity amidst isolation and crippling economic conditions. With its agricultural land seized and colonised, and its tourism-dependent economy hit hard, the unemployment rate in Bethlehem is the highest in the West Bank.

Through this visual, we begin to map the barriers and illegal encroachments that strangulate Bethlehem under the Israeli occupation.

As Father Ibrahim Shomali, a Catholic priest of the city’s Beit Jala parish, declared in December 2011, “If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed.”