For a second or two, I considered releasing my Tel Aviv's Black Christmas article for the upcoming Christmas. Why not? It is still true and relevant as a Jerusalemite professor wrote to me after its original publication. Yet, as always, I could count on Israel to provide a fresh testimony of its hatred. On December 19, 2012, the construction of the stretch of Highway 60 splitting the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa, near Jerusalem, was begun; an odd Christmas gift to a town with a substantial Christian population.
As the map shows, Beit Safafa is practically within Jerusalem. Two or three bus stops separate between it and the Old City; outsiders will have trouble trying to spot the border between the two. Between 1948 and 1967, the town was divided; the southern two-thirds were under Jordanian rule while the northern side was ruled by the Israeli Administration. After that war, the town was not quite reunited, despite the fence splitting it being removed. Residents of southern Beit Safafa hold Jerusalem ID cards, meaning that their status is like those of Palestinians living in the West Bank while residents of the northern part hold Israeli citizenship. In local terms, some of them have "blue-cards," i.e. are Israeli citizens while others carry "green-cards" and are restricted in their access to the city. Israeli cars have yellow plates, while the others have green plates. With less than 6,000 inhabitants, this is a relatively new town in the area; it is mentioned for the first time by Ottoman records in 1596. Yet, it is much older than the State of Israel.
Highway 60 between Gilo and Beit Jala Beit Safafa at the upper side of the map
Wasn't it Muslim?
During the 1922 Census of Palestine, Beit Safafa had a population of 716 Muslims. In 1931, this had changed to 997 Muslims and 24 Christians. Nearby, larger Beit Jala was predominantly Christian. Further south, Bethlehem was the main Christian town in the area. After Israel occupied the area, Palestinian Christians with Israeli citizenship from Nazareth, Jaffa, and Jerusalem moved to the town together with several Jewish families. This created a sweeping shift in the religious composition of the population. Expectedly, Christians were mistreated by their Zionist allies.
On February 7, 2012, the Hand in Hand’s Max Rayne Hebrew-Arabic bilingual school in Beit Safafa and the Greek Monastery of the Cross overlooking the Knesset in Jerusalem were defaced with insulting graffiti signed by Price Tag. "Death to Arabs" and "Kahane was right" was written on a wall outside the school; "Price Tag" and "Greeks out" was written on cars outside the monastery, and "Death to Christians" was written on its walls. The tires of two cars outside the monastery were punctured.
The term “Price Tag Policy” became public in July 2008, when settler Itay Zar from Havat Gilad defined it: "Whenever an evacuation (of settlers) is carried out—whether it is a bus, a trailer or a small outpost—we will respond." It refers to illegal actions carried out by radical right-winged Israeli activists and settlers. The actions of these Jewish hooligans include demonstrations, burning of mosques, desecration of churches, blocking of roads, clashes with Israeli security forces, throwing rocks at Palestinian cars, torching of Palestinian fields and orchards, and the destruction and uprooting of trees belonging to Palestinians. The last is very important since according to Ottoman laws still legally binding in Israel, trees can be used to show ownership of land. This is how Israelis define "good neighbors."
After such a beginning, the year could not end well. Days before Christmas, Israel reminded its Christians that they are second class citizens. After tempting them into settling in Beit Safafa, the town is about to be split by Israel's most strategic road, Highway 60.
Jerusalem Area | Beit Safafa within the yellow area at the center | Gush Etzion further south in blue tones
A favorite method of Israel to disguise its crimes is creating Biblical allusions that make it difficult to oppose them. Highway 60 is known also as the "Way of the Patriarchs," since its path appears in the travels of the Biblical patriarchs. It runs along the central watershed, between Beersheba and Nazareth, splitting the West Bank in two. The major stops along its path are Beersheba, Hebron, Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Afula and Nazareth. Hebron and Ramallah are major Palestinian cities, thus the highway bypasses them. Near Jerusalem, this road connects Jewish settlements with the city in such a way that settlers can travel through it without passing through Palestinian towns. This is especially true regarding Gush Etzion, a cluster of Jewish settlements south of Jerusalem (see map). With 70,000 settlers living in 22 settlements, this is the largest Jewish occupied area in the West Bank and is considered by many Israelis as a symbol of revival. Simply, several of its villages were founded between 1940 and 1947, and were destroyed during the 1948-1949 War. Following the conquest of the West Bank, Israel decided to settle the area against international law. The new stretch of Highway 60 will allow these settlers to avoid all Palestinian villages in their way to Jerusalem; this time at the cost of splitting Beit Safafa.
Highway 60 is more important than that. North of Jerusalem it connects with Road 443, creating what is known as the "second corridor." "Gush Dan" – namely "Dan’s Block" in Hebrew – is the name given to the seven cities occupying central Israel, with Tel Aviv at its center; the metropolis is the financial and commercial center of the country. Gush Dan and Jerusalem – which Zionists define as their capital – are connected by a narrow corridor along Israel’s Highway #1. This is one of the most strategic fault-lines of the State of Israel. Breaking it apart is a real possibility, especially at a narrow point known as “Shaar HaGai” (“Narrow Valley’s Gate” in Hebrew), where Jerusalem’s mountains connect the seashore plains. This is the reason for the ongoing digging at the site of a railway tunnel (see Reviving Burma Road), which in its Jerusalem stretch will double as a nuclear-bunker. In parallel, Israel is for years now trying to widen the corridor connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv through the construction of a secondary access road. This is known as Route 443, which links north Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements with the city of Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut and Tel Aviv. In 2011, the construction of the last part of the connection of this route with Highway 60 was begun; it is scheduled to end at the beginning of 2013.
Road 443 near Beit Horon Note the Segregation Wall
This was bad news for Beit Safafa. Their quality of life was of no consideration for the beast seeking to finish one of its strategic paths of occupation. From early next year, the village denizens will find their way to the local grocery shop cut by a mighty, uncrossable highway. Merry Christmas Tel Aviv!