Israeli policies and practices applied since the beginning of the occupation, which have accelerated in recent years, have resulted in the increasing fragmentation of the Bethlehem governorate and its population. These include the annexation of areas to Israel; the seizure of land and its allocation for settlement development and for military training; the imposition of physical and administrative access restrictions; the inadequate planning and zoning regime; and ineffective enforcement of the law on Israeli settlers, among others.
The establishment and continuous expansion of Israeli settlements throughout the governorate is one of the key drivers of vulnerability among Palestinians. The declaration of large areas as public land (also known as "state land") and their allocation for settlement development has contributed to the shrinking of space available for Palestinians to sustain their livelihoods and develop adequate housing and services. The Barrier planned around the Gush Etzion settlement block, if completed, will separate Bethlehem's rural hinterland from the urban centre and impair people's access to services.
Palestinian building is prohibited in the absolute majority of Area C across the governorate, resulting in the demolition of structures built without permits and the displacement of people. It has also resulted is the movement of young couples to Areas A and B in order to meet their housing needs. This prohibition is implemented as part of planning processes and institutions, which exclude Palestinian participation while fully integrating Israeli settlers.
A range of restrictions on the access of Palestinian farmers to land that was not seized for settlement development or military training have undermined the agricultural livelihoods of many families. Access to private land located within the outer limits of settlements, in areas where settler violence is recurrent, or behind the Barrier, is subject to a permit system or to prior coordination with the Israeli authorities. The limited number of days allocated via these mechanisms and the related restrictions on the entry of vehicles and machinery to these areas have been negatively impacting productivity.
The Israeli authorities fail to effectively enforce the rule of law in regard to acts of violence and takeover of land by Israeli settlers, further undermining the safety, mental health, and livelihoods of Palestinians. Israeli forces often fail to stop attacks and follow-up afterwards is inadequate or poorly conducted. The policy to retroactively 'legalizing' settlement outposts built on public land taken over without any official authorization contributes to an atmosphere of impunity.
As the occupying power, Israel is obligated to ensure that the humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Bethlehem are met and that they are able to exercise their human rights, including their right to enjoy their natural resources and to be free from discrimination. Israel also has an obligation to ensure that those responsible for violence and takeover of land are held accountable. The transfer of Israeli population into the occupied territory is prohibited.
1These figures include areas designated as “nature reserves” in the context of the 1998 Wye River Agreement between Israel and the PLO, which are de facto administered as Area C. The three categories within Area C partially overlap (see map).