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Israel Closes Bethlehem to Jerusalem Residents

Contact: Leila Sansour: +44 7814 937743; Charlotte Carson: +44 7768 305897/ 20 7222 8443; www.openbethlehem.org

BETHLEHEM, Palestine, July 5 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Israeli army has issued orders to close the ‘Bethlehem Terminal’ to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. This has been in practice for many months, and has now become army policy following recent orders by Major General Yair Naveh, Head of IDF Central Command.

For years, Bethlehem’s residents have been forbidden from accessing Jerusalem without special permission from the Israeli army. The communities of the two towns are intimately connected through family, work, education and religion, but are forced to live divided by a wall, unable to visit their friends and families, or go to their universities and places of worship.

This policy means, for example, that Christians from East Jerusalem are unable to pray at the Church of the Nativity, without spending hours traveling around Jerusalem to get to Bethlehem. This journey would take fifteen minutes without Israeli checkpoints.

The 237,000 Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem are forced to carry Israeli-issued ID cards which permit them to travel in certain areas forbidden to West Bank Palestinians. According to an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper (30 June), a senior Defense Ministry source suggested that forbidding East Jerusalem residents to enter cities in the West Bank is just one part of a broader policy of making life harder for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. The source pointed out that this policy includes preventing students who have been abroad for long periods from coming back to the city.

Open Bethlehem’s director, Leila Sansour says: “Since the Oslo Peace Treaty, Bethlehem has witnessed the gradual but continual dispossession of its land, and increasing isolation from the rest of Palestine and the outside world. This policy is certain to undermine the sustainability of both communities.”

Israel built the new ‘Bethlehem Terminal’ in 2005 to replace a previous series of checkpoints between the towns. The Terminal acts as an entry point for tourists and other international visitors who are fast-tracked thought the checkpoint while Palestinians wait in line.

This news comes in the same week that saw the launch of the 'Ad Hoc Committee for the Protection of Foreign Passport Holders Visiting/Residing in the OPT'. This group will tackle Israel’s deportation and denial of entry to people of Palestinian origin who wish to visit or work in Palestine.