On the top of Bethlehem’s highest altitude lies the settlement of Har Gilo, built on lands belonging to Beit Jala and Al Wallajah of the occupied Palestinian territory (“oPt”). What started as a small Jordanian military base, which Israel occupied in 1967, was converted into a small civilian settlement in 1972 prior to becoming a strategic geographic factor in overtaking and controlling Bethlehem.
Har Gilo’s population growth was not a steady and natural increase, but rather an artificial one through the deliberate annexation of Palestinian lands, and Israel’s government-sponsored policy of encouraging settler population in the oPt through significant incentives.
In fact, there is a direct correlation between the land acquisition of Al-Walajah property and the population increase of the Har Gilo settlement. For example, from 1972 until 1999, the population remained below 363 settlers. It increased to 670 in 2013 and spiked to 1585 afterwards. The significant increase of settlers coincided with the 2013 decision to confiscate 1,200 dunums and designate them towards a National Park. As it stands, the population of Har Gilo numbers 1646 settlers today.
The strategic location of the settlement of Har Gilo enables the settlement to operate as a link between the areas annexed around the southern parts of Occupied East Jerusalem (namely, the Gilo settlement and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc built to the west and south of Bethlehem). Moreover, its location serves to sever the geographic contiguity between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Consequently, since its establishment, and especially after the construction of the illegal Annexation Wall, the Har Gilo settlement, along with its “area of jurisdiction”, continue to be expanded at the expense of Palestinian lands and fundamental rights.
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