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From the field

Um Raqba, al-Khader – 25 homes and a school face demolition

The town of al-Khader is located west of Bethlehem. Its western border adjoins the Bethlehem bypass road built in the 1990s to connect Jerusalem and Hebron, and also adjoins the Separation Barrier that Israel built there in 2006. The land belonging to the town once encompassed over 2,200 hectares. Several hundred hectares were declared state land in the 1970s, and it was on that land that Israel built the settlements of Efrat – directly south of al-Khader, Neve Daniel and El’azar.  The town was left with only about 800 hectares of land. In 2006, a section of the Separation Barrier was built along 3.5 km west of al-Khader. The barrier left only 260 hectares of al-Khader’s land on the “Palestinian” side. Most of the town’s agricultural land was left on the other side of the Separation Barrier, greatly impeding access.

Aerial photograph of the town of al-Khader and Um Raqba neighborhood
Aerial photograph of the town of al-Khader and Um Raqba neighborhood

The master plan drafted by the Civil Administration for the town in the 1990s comprised only 75.6 hectares, and about 6,700 of the town’s residents at the time were allowed to build on that section only. Under the Oslo Accords, the town’s territory was divided into three different areas: 74.5 hectares (9%) were in Area A; 45.7 hectares (5.5%) were in Area B; and more than 700 hectares (85.5%) were in Area C. Since this division was made, the population of al-Khader has nearly doubled. Adnan Ibrahim Salah, head of the local council, estimates the current population at 12,000 residents yet the tracts of land available for construction in the town have not expanded to keep up with the increased population. According to Salah, the land included in the master plan – now in Areas A and B – has already been utilized and fully populated. As for the town’s land located in Area C, he says that Israel permits no building there, and besides, most of that land has ended up on the other side of the Separation Barrier.

A tract of about a hundred hectares of al-Khader land in Area C on the “Palestinian” side of the Separation Barrier is in the Um Raqba agricultural area, at the southern edge of al-Khader, southwest of Solomon’s Pools. Over the years, this agricultural area has also turned residential and there are 55 homes there now. Thirty of the houses are adjacent to the northern access road to Efrat:  five were built before Israel occupied the West Bank and 25 were built from the 1990s onward. Since 2000, the Civil Administration has issued demolition orders for 25 of these houses, home to approximately 140 people, including 90 children. The other 25 houses in Um Raqba are located further away from the settlement’s access road, and the Civil Administration has not issued demolition orders for them. The homeowners facing demolition are represented by the St. Yves organization. The legal proceedings have yet to be concluded.

The shortage of land for building in al-Khader also damages basic services to which the town’s residents are entitled, including medical care and education. The head of council reported to B’Tselem that the girls’ school in the town is located in an old building without enough classrooms for its 780 students. The municipality cannot build a new school because there is no land available, partly because most of the village lands are in Area C. For the same reason, the al-Khader local council passed up the opportunity of building a hospital, although the local community has already gathered donations to fund it. In addition to serving the residents of al-Khader itself, the hospital would serve the residents of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and the villages west of Bethlehem, all of whom presently rely on the government hospital in Beit Jala, with its mere 127 beds.

One of the schools in al-Khader is the Zuhur al-Amal (Flowers of Hope) School, which is made up of an elementary school and a junior high school for both boys and girls. The school was built in 1992 in Um Raqba, before the town was divided into sectors of differing status. An application submitted to the Civil Administration for a building permit for the school was denied. Under the Oslo Accords, the school is considered Area C and is registered as an educational institution with the Palestinian Ministry of Education. At present it has about 700 students. In 2003, after the school had been operating for about a decade, the Civil Administration issued a demolition order. The school’s principal contacted a lawyer, who petitioned the High Court of Justice against the demolition. In November 2003 the Court stayed the demolition order, but the threat to the school has not been lifted entirely. .