Situated on 38 dunums of private land, this abandoned church and hospital complex, located north of Al-Arrub refugee camp between Bethlehem and Hebron, is now at the forefront of the battle against illegal settlement expansion. Having undergone renovations in recent months, preparations are well under way for settlers to move in and illegally occupy the premises, inevitably further strengthening Israeli presence in the south of the West Bank; the ultimate goal being to divide the West Bank into two and further isolate the north from the south.
Built in the late 1940s by Thomas Lambie, this American missionary came to to Palestine to establish a hospital which specialised in treating tuberculosis. With the death of the founder in 1954, the complex was bought by the Presbyterian Church group from Pennsylvania who set about converting the eight building complex into a church, catering for Palestinians Christians in the area. The church held weekly Sunday services, prayer meetings, Bible study, children classes and summer camps, making it a lively hub of the Christian community in the area. As of 1995, Beit Al-Baraka received licensing as a Pilgrim Youth Hostel which advertised itself as having “spacious facilities with modest rates… available for local and foreign groups for camps, retreats and tours”.
Following a recent interview with Joan Davenport, a nun who was previously director of the complex, it has emerged that the church decided to sell the property in 2008 having been told that the Christian community in Bethlehem no longer required their presence. However, the deception behind the sale has only recently come to light and uncovers the ulterior zionist motives that further fuels the Judaization of the West Bank.
Under the pretence of a Swedish company, the Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprise, who claimed to be a church group based in Haifa, the company- which was established in 2007 in Stockholm- claimed that their plan was to restore the church and revive it as a place of worship. Once purchased, the group registered the building with the Civil Administration and received all necessary approvals. Following this approval, the Swedish group announced its dissolution, with the church being its only asset.
In 2012, the American Friends of the Everest Foundation- which operates in occupied East Jerusalem- purchased the Swedish group, which is funded solely by right-wing American Philanthropist Irving Moskowitz. Working alongside him is Areyh King, the director and founder of the Israel Land Funder and a member of the Jerusalem City Council, whose main aim is to illegally expel Palestinians off their property and colonise it.
With the foundation owning over $12 million of real-estate in occupied Jerusalem, it is clear that this new purchase by the foundation, in which they are widening their target area and aiming at West Bank properties, is representative of the desire to completely colonise the southern West Bank. As the settlement Migdal Oz in the neighbouring area already consists of 500 dunams of land, occupying this particular premise will further allow settlement expansion and the space to create a bypass road which will further divide the West Bank. Work on the property is still being carried out despite a work injunction order being granted by the Civil Administration. In order to conceal the renovations, a man named Emmanuel, who posed as a Norwegian aiming to restore the church, was placed in charge of contact with the Palestinian workers employed as well as with the IDF who were fed the same cover story. Not only have several security cameras and a new fence been installed, but this tight security is further backed up by security guards who are disguised as workers.
Not only is Beit Al-Baraka the subject of an illegal land grab which will result in the establishment of a new illegal settlement, but it is importantly a ’fraud crime’ that violates international law. The Judaization of this premises is a detrimental blow to the Palestinian cause, as settlers are continuing their illegal expansion of occupying Palestinian land and property, which without a doubt is aiming to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories.