In a previous article on “The Deceit of the Century: Deconstructing a Title” I tried to analyze the deceptive nature and colonial hierarchy embedded in the official title of the ‘Deal’ that runs as ‘Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.’ A deep look into the cover image accompanying the ‘Deal’, which shows part of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, exposes the great delusion that even transcends what the outlandish title itself intended to deliver.
The craftily designed cover uses a carefully selected photograph. It shows a shot of the South Eastern part of Bethlehem edged horizontally with an open horizon of a medium sized mountainous plateau. At first glance, this gives the sense of a tranquil city of spacious neighborhoods, and reasonably clean, multi-story buildings. The open skyline meeting with the open semi-greenish terrain confers a sense of coolness and hope. Apparent ‘available’ space embodies a promising feel of potential expansion and development in the projected direction just waiting for the city to realize. Connotatively, the message points at a positive and buoyant future for the Palestinians – that goes smoothly with ‘Prosperity’ in the deal’s title. By complementing the wording of the title, the image says that the Deal offers the Palestinians an unmissable opportunity for a bright future. All this in fact is deceptive.
The reality of the very same place appearing in this picture is actually much more grim and totally different. What is represented by the image as serene and peaceful stands in stark contradiction to the daily actualities of a city choked by the Apartheid Wall, military zoning and at least 18 Israeli settlements–– some of these are among the largest in the West Bank. The designers of the cover image did their best to use an aerial shot that excludes direct visibility of any part of the settlement blocs or Israeli impositions. This was certainly a huge and tricky task to undertake either in Bethlehem or any other large Palestinian cities such as Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and others.
A little play with the angle of the shot from the same spot where the photograph was taken exposes that which was meant to stay out of sight.
If the angle of the picture was moved perhaps less than 30 degrees further to the south, the Israeli settlement blocs of Tekoa and Nokdim would appear in the frame. Tekoa was founded in 1975 as a temporary outpost on the land of the Palestinian village Tuqu, then transformed into a small town over the years. This was connected in the 1980s with the Nokdim settlement that was founded in 1982 on land that was confiscated from the Palestinian village of Janata. Likewise, if the angle of the cover image was tilted almost a 30-40 degree further to the north, part of the Har Homa settlement which is built upon Palestine’s Mt. Abu Ghuniem would appear, along with parts of the stranglehold Apartheid Wall. The land and mountain on which this settlement has been built were confiscated in 1991 from dozens of Palestinian families of Beit Sahur village that is part of Bethlehem. These owners have to endure the daily bitterness of this loss as the view of the massive and imposing settlement on their own land is an around-the- clock reminder of their misfortune.
Changing the spot where the picture was taken altogether, and moving to another area in Bethlehem for the same task of contriving a shot cleared from any settlement or Israeli presence is too difficult if not simply impossible. In the north, the city is blocked by a series of settlements that include Giva’t H-Matos, Gilo and Har Gilo, which were all built on lands expropriated from families of Beit Jala, Surbaher and other villages of the city. To the west and southwest of Bethlehem there lies a stretch of the biggest settlement blocs in the West Bank that includes Beitar Illit, Gush Etzion and Efrat. In January 2019 the Israeli government approved plans to expand the Efrat settlement even further to the southeast, as part of a master plan called E2 that would connect the southwestern blocs with the southeastern blocs of Nokdim and Tekoa settlements, and thus close off the entire southern side of the city. As a result, Bethlehem will be disconnected from Hebron city southward as it has been disconnected from Jerusalem north-eastward, resulting in a full Israeli encirclement of the city. The ‘hopeful’ silence of the cover image of the ‘Deceit of the Century’ hides this continuous strangulation of the city of Bethlehem, and suppresses the daily noise of the unstoppable bulldozers and settlement construction activities creating a contiguous belt around the city.
This image that meant to hide any Israeli imposition, military facilities or vulgar settlements, and despite its obvious careful attention, has betrayed its manipulators. At the top right and top left corners of the portrait there are two remarkable symbols of the Israeli occupation and control over the projected space. The first, on the right, is the Israeli Herodium touristic park on the top of the Freduis mountain, occupied since 1967; and the second, to the left, is part of the Har Homa settlement that cuts off the city from Jerusalem. The hopeful space ‘offered’ in the image for Bethlehem to expand into lies in fact in this narrow opening between the two hilltops and is being closed-in further by the day.
If the camera zooms in further into this opening a network of roads, bypasses, tunnels and bridges would appear, built around or branching out from “Lieberman Road.” This road connects the settlements bloc of Nokdim, Tekoa and the smaller ones Kfar Eldad and Ma’ale Rhavam all the way up north to Har Homa and Jerusalem. The road ravages through territories of the Palestinian villages of Harmala, Rafidia, Za’tara, Beit Ta’amir, Ras al Wad, Beith Sahur and Al Khas. This costly and heavily constructed highway extends for 9 km over 392 acres of eaten up Palestinian land, and is named after Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing Israeli leader and former defense and foreign minister, who lives in Nokdim and is known for his blatant racism against Palestinians and calls for their expulsion from Israel. In short, the Palestinian land that appears in the image to be calm and awaiting a prosperous Palestinian future is in reality stolen, controlled and exploited by Israel, and lies beyond the reach of any of its wretched original owners.
Further, the deception of the tranquil territory above ground in the image hides an ugly reality that extends even to the underground. The daily Israeli theft of Palestinian water resources in Bethlehem, as elsewhere in the West Bank, will never appear in the cover shot. Since its 1967 military occupation, Israel has controlled all Palestinian aquifers, springs and water resources and ever since has exploited these resources to feed its settlements and Israeli cities. It is sadly ironic that the population of Bethlehem buy their stolen water from the Israeli occupier, paying four times the price paid by Israeli settlers next door who live on lands that have also been stolen from the Palestinians. Because of its high cost, irregular supply and scarcity, average consumption of water among Palestinians who live in the houses appearing in the photograph is 69 liter per person, compared to 287 liter per settler in the surrounding settlement blocs. In these same Palestinian households, one out of each four adults is unemployed according to 2019 figures because of the suffocating economic and territorial Israeli policies imposed on the city.
The peaceful serenity of the cover image of the Deal of the Century intended to create a good feeling of hopeful banality, aiming to gloss over the intensive and continuous process of theft and control that has been juggernauting over and under the ground of Bethlehem. A process that has caused the birthplace of Jesus to shrink to an otherwise unimaginable 13% of its original area since 1967.
Thank you to my friends in Bethlehem, Dr. Jad Isaac of The Applied Research Institute and Ms. Rana Madbouh, for background information and photos that they provided to me.