email a friend iconprinter friendly iconBethlehem 2007 A.D.
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He was born in what is now Israel but was then, during World War II, known as the British Mandate for Palestine (the British began governing the region in 1922, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire). After World War II, in the wake of the Holocaust, the United Nations voted to partition the region into two states—one Jewish, one Arab. Jews accepted the plan, Arabs did not. Fighting between Arabs and Jews began even before Israel declared independence, in 1948, and the ensuing war resulted in about 750,000 Palestinians fleeing their native villages, many of them forced to do so by the Israeli army. Many relocated to the West Bank of the Jordan River, administered by Jordan, or the Gaza Strip, governed by Egypt. These were the first Palestinian refugees.

Then, in 1967, Israel defeated the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon in six chaotic days and occupied, among other lands, the West Bank, a place many Israelis refer to by its biblical name, Judaea and Samaria. This initiated the settlement movement—Jews establishing homesites throughout the newly won territory.

Froman was one of the first to go. He believes, as do many settlers, that the Jews' deed to Judaea and Samaria is spelled out in the Old Testament. They are the landlords. Froman therefore feels he has the right, granted from God, to live here. In the district of Bethlehem, which includes the city and neighboring villages, there are about 180,000 Palestinians, of whom 25,000 or so are Christian (virtually all living in urban Bethlehem and two satellite towns, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur). Woven into this map are 22 Jewish settlements, with a population approaching 80,000, and at least a dozen more frontier-style squatter encampments known as outposts, often no more than a ring of dilapidated mobile homes, like Conestoga wagons around a campfire.

Just looking out his window in Tekoa, Froman sees why everyone craves a piece of this land. For Jews still awaiting their Messiah, Froman says it's possible that he will arrive right here, in the eroded backcountry of Bethlehem, the presence of God palpable in the desert's sandpaper wind. For Christians anticipating their Messiah's return, why shouldn't he come back to the spot he was born? Muslims do not believe in a messiah—there is only Allah, only God—but Palestinian Muslims also revere this land as sacred, since Jesus is one of their prophets. Also Bethlehem and the surrounding West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, are where they hope to establish a viable homeland.

The United Nations, the European Union, and the International Court of Justice have declared the Israeli settlements illegal, a violation of the Geneva Convention that prohibits occupying powers from allowing its citizens to populate the territory it occupies. The Israeli government, though, provides easy loans to those seeking houses in West Bank settlements. One of the largest in the Bethlehem area is called Har Homa. Its gleaming high-rises stand so close to Bethlehem—just across the wall—that it seems as if you could hold your arm out on a Palestinian street corner and hail a cab in Har Homa. It has become a full-fledged suburb, with 2,000 Israelis. About half of all settlers consider themselves nonreligious, and real estate ads in Har Homa, plastered on numerous billboards, stress the town's secular advantages. Reasonable prices; great location; such an easy commute to Jerusalem! Har Homa exemplifies an Israeli strategy known as "facts on the ground": The more Jews who live in a concentrated area on the east side of the so-called Green Line—the armistice line established in 1949 following Israel's war of independence—the more likely the area will become part of Israel if the region is divided into two countries. Palestinians still refer to Har Homa by its original name, Jabal Abu Ghuneim—in Arabic, "mountain of the shepherd." It used to be one of the last open spaces in Bethlehem, a pine-shaded hillside where shepherds tended their flocks, and had done so since biblical times. Construction began in 1997; the land was shaved flat and stacked with apartment towers. Not one Palestinian who owned acreage was compensated. Its new name means "walled mountain" in Hebrew.
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