Since 2001, the Tomb has become heavily militarised.
Religious settlers have made public their plans to build a new settlement of 400 apartments at Rachels Tomb.
A series of walls have been built in the area around the tomb, making space for the new settlement. A new road has been built, for Israelis only, to access the tomb. Although the tomb and the surrounding area lie on Bethlehems land in the West Bank, the Israeli government has officially annexed this land (September 2006), reclassifying it as part of Israeli- controlled Jerusalem.
The annexation has forced most families to leave the neighbourhood. But some of them cannot afford to leave and are forced to remain.
Claire Anastas is a 38 year-old Catholic mother of four.
Claires extended family moved into the three-storey home in 2000. Claire opened a home-ware shop and her husband Johnny, a mechanic, opened a workshop in the ground floor. They made a comfortable living in this busy and affluent neighbourhood of Bethlehem.
With the increased militarization of the tomb in 2001, the family felt the effects of fear in the community. Claire was heartbroken when none of her sons school friends came to his birthday party. Now, trapped behind the Wall, Claire feels that her family has been isolated. My family has been left behind. They are burying us alive.
The construction around their home began at Christmas 2005. Six months later it was finished. On the day the concrete slabs were erected, the children came home from school, looked out the window and cried.
Claires house, in the middle of this picture, is facing walls on three sides.
They have been forced to close their businesses and are now struggling with huge debts. They have no money to buy a new house somewhere else and have received no compensation from the Israeli Authorities.
Claire says her children are depressed and fight with each other a lot. They have nowhere safe to play, so they must stay inside the house either studying or watching TV.
We pray that God will help us. This is what gives us hope. I dont think God will abandon us.
a Khalil is a 63 year-old Christian. His family has lived in Bethlehem for centuries. He has owned a small grocery store in the Rachels Tomb neighbourhood for 40 years.
Khalil made a reasonable income from the store. He didnt have much formal education, so he worked hard to provide for his family and was able to give them a good standard of living.
About five years ago the Israeli Authorities asked to buy his land. He refused. Subsequently he received notification that his land would be confiscated for security purposes. They offered Khalil less than $100 per year compensation. Viewing this as an insult, he refused. Later, when he received notification that the Wall would be built on his land, he hired a lawyer. The lawyer filed two petitions requesting a change in the route of the Wall. He lost both. Khalil cannot afford to continue with the legal battle. It is expensive.
Every day Khalil would open his shop for the four or five customers who continued to visit him. But most of the time he spent on his own. He feared that if he stopped going to his shop, the Israeli Army would take it from him.
An Israeli flag flies from an apartment above the shop where Israeli settlers have moved in.
The final gap in the wall has now been sealed with a gate. Khalil has been refused a permit to access his property.
Yusuf Awda Massar is a 56 year-old Christian father of nine whose family has lived in Bethlehem for 400 years.
Yusuf has owned this restaurant for 32 years. It was a thriving business which employed ten staff and provided him with the income needed to educate his children.
In 2002 he was shot in the leg on his way to the restaurant by an Israeli soldier. The injury and the increasing militarization of the area forced him to close the shop. But he re-opened last year because he has so much debt to pay that he must work even for a very small income.
A watchtower looms over his restaurant. His legal battle in the Israeli court has yielded no results. With the burden of mounting debt, he feels pessimistic about his future.
Bassem Khoury is an architect who has lived and worked in this area since 1980. In the last five years his business has dropped by 80%. In spite of the difficulty, Bassem refuses to leave his office: It is here that I am established. I have a right to be here. We have to resist.
This wall comes down the middle of Bassems street. Most of his neighbours have left for Europe or America.
The walls surround his home. He says his family is afraid to go into their garden because the soldiers throw stones and shout insults from the adjacent building which they occupy.
Bassems daughter was arrested outside their home for not carrying her ID. He feels that international churches should do more to support the community of Bethlehem.
Christian Emigration Between 1922-47 Christians accounted for 18-20% of the Palestinian population They now account for 1.6% If this rate continues, Palestinian and western scholars estimate that the indigenous Palestinian Christian population will be on the verge of extinction within a generation.
www.openbethlehem.org What can we do? Lobby our governments Lobby our churches Visit Bethlehem Organise church group visits Support the Palestinian economy Join Open Bethlehem
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