Beit Ommar Blocks Route 60 in Protest of Israeli Co-optation of Religious Sites

7 March 2010

Saturday, March 6–Beit Ommar, population 17,000, is located halfway between the cities of Betlehem and Hebron, both homes to religious sites significant to all three monotheisitic religions which have been the focus of a new move by the Israeli government to declare the sites “Israeli”. More importantly, both sites, the Ibrahimi and Belal Mosques, are located deep within Palestinian territory.

At the beginning of March, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu declared the Ibrahimi Mosque (also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham is believed to be buried by Muslims, Christians, and Jews) in Hebron and The Belal Mosque (also known as Rachel’s Tomb, where all three monotheistic religions believe Rachel, the matriarch, is buried) in Betlehem to be Israeli national heritage sites. While much has been made of the religious dispute (declaring these locations to “belong” to Jews, rejecting the claim of Christian and Muslim Palestinians), at its base, the conflict is over land.

The issue is not which religion has more “claim” to the locations, but the fact that Israel is declaring “National Sites” in Occupied Territory; once again planting their flag in the middle of Palestinian cities.

It was against this, and the continued control over Palestinian life, that residents of Beit Ommar, accompanied by a few Israeli and international supporters, took over Route 60, the main highway connecting settlements throughout the Southern West Bank and Hebron to Betlehem.

First, some residents cut open a fence the Israeli military built along the edge of Beit Ommar several years ago which forces all residents to use one entrance to the village which is controlled by the IDF. They then flooded the street, carrying signs with various slogans, both against the designation of the religious sites as “Israeli” and the continued control of Palestinian lives throughout the Occupied Territories.

The Israeli military arrived quickly and began to try to clear the road using sound grenades and assaulting participants. Several people sat in the street, blocking Saturday morning traffic and bringing attention to their protest. The military attempted to identify the organizers of the demonstration, which was called for by the National Committee of Beit Ommar, but no arrests were made. After about 45 minutes, the demonstration dispersed, and the military invaded the village, provoking clashes with stone-throwing youth that lasted for several hours.

This is the second weekly demonstration organized by the National Committee of Beit Ommar, with the support of Palestine Solidarity Project, to address different elements of the occupation directly affecting the lives of average Palestinians in the southern West Bank.