by Bethlehem Team, Summer 2013
On Monday, 5 May 2013, the Israeli army closed one of the two entrances to Al Walaja, a Palestinian village located west of Bethlehem. With a gate and two concrete blocks, the Israeli forces blocked the road which connects the village to the neighbouring Cremisan Valley and Bethlehem. Not only does this gate violate the residents’ right to freedom of movement, but it is also the latest event in a series of attempts to isolate the village from the city centre of Bethlehem and make their lives more difficult every day.
photo by Bethlehem Team
photo by Bethlehem Team
Omar Hajajle’s house is right next to the road block. It lies on the Israeli side of the separation barrier and only a tunnel under the wall connects him and his family to their village. He told EAs that this road block and the arrangements to build the wall changed his family’s life:
“It all started when they began building the separation barrier a few years back. Then they made way for the wall and cleared the land in the Cremisan area, which is right in front of my house. I was informed by the Israeli authorities that my house would be on the Israeli side, isolated from every direction and enclosed by a chain-link fence and this is the reality I live in today.”
A History of Displacement
Al Walaja is a village of approximately 2000 people, of whom 97% are registered refugees. The 1948 war displaced about 1600 people were displaced and the villagers lost almost 70% of their land to the newly formed State of Israel. Immediately, the Israeli towns of Ora and Aminadav were built on the hill where Al Walaja used to be. Over a 100 of the villagers moved to land they owned on what they called the ‘backyard of the village’ on the east side of the Green Line. This became the new Al Walaja.
After the 1967 war, Israel annexed half of the remaining 30% of land and placed it within the Jerusalem Municipality. Residents were not informed of this and despite this boundary change, were not provided with Jerusalem residency and ID cards.
During the early 1970s the construction of the settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo took even more land from the remaining 15% of village’s land.
Fears become reality
Today, the residents of Al Walaja live continuously under the threat of displacement through the building of the separation wall, land confiscation and demolitions, which endangers the remaining 10% of their original land. The continued building of the separation barrier on its current route will split Al Walaja in half, with part in Area C on the Palestinian side and the other within the Jerusalem municipality.
For the last decade bulldozers uprooted and damaged hundreds of village trees and demolished over 45 building structures. The Israeli army exercised a campaign of house demolition orders and arrests of those living in the half of the village within the Jerusalem municipality, as they were deemed illegal residents because they had no Jerusalem ID permits.
The actions of the Israeli army in Al Walaja concerning the building of the separation barrier, home demolitions, and blocking of roads undermine international human rights. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called on Israel to dismantle the Barrier, and provide reparations to those materially damaged by the construction citing numerous violations to international human rights, including the rights to freedom of movement and the right against invasion of privacy of home and family as stated in Articles 12 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“We have been stripped of our lands and forced to resettle here.” said Atta Al-Arja, a resident whose family are refugees from the 1948 war, as he sits on his patio overlooking the valley. “In 1999, the Israeli authorities sent us official warnings against any new construction without a permit. Permits are almost always denied for ‘security’ reasons. After this, 60 houses of Al Walaja received demolition orders, including mine. Half of them have been demolished.”
The villagers fear that the construction of the wall, despite court orders to reroute it, will encircle the village and cut off farmers from their agricultural land and make Al Walaja a Palestinian enclave. After the closure of the road in May 2013, these fears came closer to reality.