Palestinians fear widening highway 60 in south of West Bank part of settlement expansion plan

BETHLEHEM, Wednesday, The Israeli government’s approval on Wednesday of a plan to widen Highway 60 in the part that runs from Jerusalem to Hebron in the south of the West Bank caused Palestinians to fear that in addition to seizing thousands of dunums of Palestinian land, the decision is also part of a larger long term plan to expand Jewish settlements in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas.

Hasan Breijieh, head of the Bethlehem office of Settlements and Wall Resistance Commission, a Palestine Liberation Organization department, told WAFA that Israeli Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz gave orders to start work on widening the highway from its current two lanes to at least four lanes.

This decision, he said, means the Israeli government is going to seize thousands of dunums of Palestinian lands in al-Khader, Beit Jala and al-Maasra in the Bethlehem district, and Beit Ummar in the Hebron district.

Breijieh said the Israeli government has allocated more than $50 million for the expansion of the road starting from Beit Jala, north of Bethlehem, until Arroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, a distance of around 10 kilometers. The road will be 100 meters wide and will take unspecified amount of land from several Palestinian towns and villages along the highway.

He said the road will divide the northern and southern rural areas in Bethlehem and create separated Palestinian cantons as well as separate farmers from their agricultural land.

According to Suheil Khaleileh, from the Bethlehem-based Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), expanding the highway intends to first facilitate movement of settlers in the south of the West Bank and, second, prepare the ground for expanding area settlements and increase the overall number of settlers in the West Bank to reach the one million mark by 2030.

He told WAFA that the road was initially built to facilitate movement of settlers in Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron area settlements to Jerusalem.

However, he added, following the construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank, Israel built alternate roads for Palestinians that would keep them away from the Jewish settlements and the highway to Jerusalem.

Khaleileh expected that expanding Highway 60 and the alternate routes for the Palestinians will eventually make this highway accessible for Jewish commuters only while Palestinians will use the alternate routes that will take them from the south of the West Bank to its center in Ramallah and north without having to be on the same roads as the Jewish settlers.

Source: Palestinian News & Info Agency