Bethlehem is more of a large town than an actual city; yet, despite its humble stature, it may be one of the most well-known spaces in the entire world. One could venture to guess, however, that many people, especially in the West, have little to no idea of what the reality of the place actually is today. While Bethlehem itself is a relatively urbanized area there are number of smaller villages that fan out from the urban center into the surrounding countryside.
As part of our day-trip we visited three of these villages and while they all have personal and compelling stories that are worth telling, a short overview of one of them may have to suffice for now.
Al-Walaja was the first village we visited that day and its story is the one I want to focus on today. The modern town al-Walaja borders the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank, but it is still firmly located within the West Bank. The West Bank is currently divided into three areas: A, B, and C, as a part of the Interim Agreement of the Oslo Accords. al-Walaja lands’ are located in both Area B and C of the West Bank.
The village lands that lie in Area B are under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority through the local village council– Israel still maintains military control of these areas. Most of the village’s land falls in Area C, where Israel retains full administrative and military control. Since the 1967 war Israel has constructed a number of settlements in the West Bank, two of which (Har Gilo and Gilo) lie in close proximity and have nearly encircled al-Walaja.
Due to the location of the two settlements, Israel’s security and separation wall will directly cut through and eventually surround what remains of al-Walaja when construction is completed. This will leave the village with one entry and exit point which will be manned by Israeli security personnel. As our guide Marwan pointed out, this means that the security forces will most likely prevent or limit the movement of anyone into the village who does not currently reside there.