BETHLEHEM, PALESTINOW.COM — Bethlehem mayor Anton Salman on Monday said that the Israeli occupation authorities have seized about 22,000 dunums of Bethlehem lands, which constitute 87% of the province’s area.
Salman said, in an exclusive interview with the PIC, that Bethlehem is inhabited by 29,000 Palestinians, most of whom are constantly targeted with house demolition, especially those living in Area C, which is exclusively controlled by Israel.
Salman added that Bethlehem is surrounded by 23 Israeli settlements inhabited by 168,000 settlers.
According to Salman, 65% of Bethlehem lands are located in Area C, 17.3% in Area A, and 1.6% in Area B. Only 13.4% of Bethlehem’s area is administered by the Palestinian Authority, and the remaining 22% is a natural reserve controlled by Israel.
“87% of Bethlehem lands are completely under Israeli control, 7.3% are controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and 6.1% are administered by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he explained.
Salman said that Bethlehem lands have been repeatedly targeted with confiscation even before the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The first land theft witnessed in the province, he added, followed the Israeli Knesset’s decision to annex East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. All lands located north of the Green Line in Bethlehem were considered part of Jerusalem under the pretext that their owners are absent.
In response to a question about the decrease in the number of Christians in Palestine, Anton attributed this to three reasons. The first is the social and political instability caused by the Israeli occupation.
The second reason is Israel’s settlement activity and confiscation of Palestinian-owned lands, while the third is that most Christians have relatives abroad who encourage them to emigrate.
Salman pointed out that Israel has deported a large number of Christians outside the Palestinian territories since the 1948 war. He continued to say that there are only 12,000 Christians in Jerusalem now out of 31,000 who were in the holy city in 1948.
Commenting on the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements last week, Salman said that Netanyahu’s goal is to undermine the national unity between Christians and Muslims which has existed for thousands of years in Palestine.
“If Netanyahu really cares about Palestinian Christians, especially in Bethlehem, he should return the 22,000 dunums that were illegally annexed to Israel to expand the settlements,” Bethlehem mayor stressed.
Netanyahu in press statements last week claimed that Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East and that it protects the rights of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.