Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bethlehem: the divisions deepen

As Christmas pilgrims converge once more on the birthplace of Jesus, tensions are rising in the town as Israel prepares to extend its separation wall.

Mitri Michel Ghneim, painter and taxi driver, has had an unusual life. War has twice dispossessed him. His honeymoon lasted 12 years. And he has a highway in his garden.

Mr Ghneim was once very proud of his garden on the outskirts of Beit Jala, a Christian town in the Palestinian governorate of Bethlehem. “It was a paradise, full of trees and birds,” he says. The birds and trees are long gone, replaced by the roar of traffic after Israel built Route 60, the main Jewish settler road in the West Bank, through his land.

Mr Ghneim can no longer see the road, nor the Judaean hills that stretch beyond it. Last year, bulldozers arrived to erect a 25ft- high concrete wall, part of the separation barrier Israel began building in the West Bank in 2002, ostensibly to protect Jewish territory – and Route 60 – from Palestinian attacks.

Deprived of a view over the landscape where Biblical shepherds once watched their flocks, Mr Ghneim has done his best to titivate his surroundings, painting the portion of wall in front of his home with a mural of the coastal town of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, which he fled with his family when the first Israeli-Arab war broke out in 1948. Read More