In May of 2006, the Israeli army evacuated a military camp strategically located on the highest hill at the southern entrance to the Palestinian city of Beit Sahour, in the Bethlehem region. It was built as a military base by the British Mandatory army during the Arab revolt (referred to by some as the very first Intifadah). After 1948 it became a military base of the Jordan Legion. After 1967 it became an Israeli military base. As a menacing fortress it overlooked the edge of the town. Most houses surrounding the camp were destroyed by tank shells and gunfire originating at the base. Flood lit during the night, flash lights constantly scanning the area around it, the base was caught in an ‘endless day’. The evacuation was itself a violent operation, at night dozens of tanks rolled into the town and in the morning the base was found empty. Moments later, Palestinians entered the base and took away every element and material that could be recycled. During the Oslo era an agreement was signed between the municipality of Beit Sahour and the central government under Arafat, guarantying that in case of a possible Israeli evacuation the base would not be used by the Palestinian police and be handed over to the management of the municipality as a public space. Upon gaining control of the site a municipal master plan designated a set of public functions, a neighbourhood with a hospital and a public park. A play area for children, a restaurant and an open garden for events have already been constructed on the slopes of the hill.

The most contentious part of the site is its summit. There, several concrete buildings formed the heart of the former camp. Surrounded by a giant earth mound running the top rim of the hill these buildings seem to inhabit the crater of a volcano. Although the summit is evacuated, it is still kept under the (remote) control of the Israeli military. Providing the most strategic views in the entire area, the military did not seem to accept it occupied by Palestinian eyes.

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Oush Grab in front of Beit Sahur

The main, partly destroyed structures of the camp. Shot: April 2008

The only almost intact watch tower of the camp

The public park under construction in the area of the former tank parking