At this time of year the hearts and minds of many Christians turn toward the “little town” of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem still exists today as a Palestinian city in the West Bank, under Israeli military occupation. But recently the little “town” of Amona has been getting more attention.
Amona is an “outpost,” housing about 40 families near the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the West Bank. Amona was started in 1995, with settlers placing three caravans on land taken from private Palestinian landowners. After 20 years of legal wrangling, the outpost still exists, but the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that Amona’s residents must leave by December 25.
Outposts are thinly-veiled ways to expand existing settlements in the West Bank. A small group of caravans or houses appears near a settlement, then eventually the settlement expands to include it. Under international law, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank are illegal.
Even under Israeli law, outposts are considered illegal. But over the years the Israeli government has been quietly working to change this by retroactively approving outposts such as Amona. The movement isn’t so quiet anymore.
Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, has given initial approval to a law that would make many of the outposts legal. Although the bill does not specifically address the outpost of Amona, it lays the groundwork for continued settlement expansion and increased Israeli control over the West Bank.
In November, the U.S. State Department responded to these developments: “We’re deeply concerned about the advancement of legislation that would allow for the legalization of illegal Israeli outposts located on private Palestinian land….If this law were enacted, it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank….We believe [settlements] are corrosive to the cause of peace.”
In early December, Secretary Kerry echoed these concerns, saying, “there’s been an erosion over a period of time by virtue of this continued settlement process which narrows and narrows the capacity for peace.”
Before President Obama leaves office, his administration can back these words up with action by supporting a strong UN Security Council resolution on settlements or by allowing Palestine’s bid to become a full member state to move forward.
While the little town of Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank lies under occupation, settlers continue to take land that is not theirs. In the scriptures we read of God’s love for “righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). This Christmas, take action for righteousness, justice and peace in the Holy Land.