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Can we look on and do nothing?

The village of Al Walaja with the illegal Israeli settlement, Har Gilo, to the north.

Ata is proud of the many fruit trees he has planted and nourished on his land.
MPT have visited Ata, Fatima, and their four children in Al Walaja regularly over the past two years. Their village was occupied and ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948. The area is now a park and an Israeli village. Many Al Walaja villagers went to Bethlehem and Jordanian refugee camps; others were forced across the valley to form a smaller village, the new Al Walaja. With less arable land to farm, unemployment is a considerable problem in this village 6 miles from Jerusalem’s center.

[See http://www.palestineremembered.com/Jerusalem/index.html
for a map and description of the 38 Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed to form West Jerusalem in 1948 and 1967.]
Jerusalem can be seen in the distance on this cloudy evening.
After the 1967 War, the new Al Walaja was annexed to Jerusalem, unbeknown to the villagers. In the late 1980s, the Israel occupation forces began using various means, including home demolitions and arrests, to drive out the more than 2000 villagers. Since then more than 25 homes, several with animal sheds have been demolished. [For photos visit: http://www.caabu.org/pdf/Al-Walaje-appeal.pdf ] The Israeli occupying army’s justification is that villagers have only West Bank IDs [of course given them by the Israelis in 1967], and not Jerusalem IDs, so are therefore living illegally in Jerusalem. In 2006 and 2007 there was strong village support for their demonstrations against the annexation of land and illegal apartheid wall that will soon surround Al Walaja.
This steel gate leads to an addition to the illegal settlement of Har Gilo,
was built in 2008.

First the barbed wire fence, then the wall. All built in 2008.
Illegal Israeli settlements are increasing despite international protests.

A continuance of Har Gilo along the eastern side of Al Walaja.

Since 1990, 55 more homes have been under an order of demolition. Furthermore, these homeowners have been fined about $300 a month for not having an-impossible-to-get permit. Some who resisted paying the fine spent time in prison. August 2009 ends the three-year moratorium on home demolitions in Al Walaja.

This demolished home was rebuilt without a permit
so it may be demolished again.

Working with a paid lawyer the village tried to get the documents required to stop the demolitions. Any family who proves that they were living on the land and getting services from Jerusalem after 1967 will not have their home demolished. There are old aerial photos showing homes in the new Al Walaja, but who is to say who was living in these homes, and there are no signs of the many people who sought refuge in nearby caves during this period. Jerusalem did not provide any services to the villagers after 1967 so where would people get such proofs as electric bills? The demand of Israel is such that the people have no way to give proof.

In the village’s Jerusalem municipality court case, the village was allowed to hire an Israeli planner, a man of French-Jewish ancestry, who for $6000 developed a plan so this Palestinian village could continue as part of Jerusalem. The plan is well done, but it does not yet met the demands of the Jerusalem municipal court or the Israeli district planning committee. Will it ever?

Our friend Ata has been active in organizing the village resistance, helping villagers to rebuild demolished homes and to begin to construct a new, adequate school for the children. [The village cannot receive a permit to build the school.] Ata, a very intelligent man who speaks fluent English, Hebrew and Arabic, has a twinkle in his eye that hints of his shrewd sense of humor. In 2007, he was given 96 months [8 years] of house arrest because of his “agitating.” He got the court order rescinded, but lost his full time job. Now he has to renew continuously his work visa to work in Jerusalem, not knowing when it could be revoked.

The residents of Al Walaja had been active in protesting the demolitions, the confiscation of much of their land for Har Gilo, the illegal Israeli settlement at the north, and the encirclement of the illegal apartheid wall around their village. Ata has been unhappy about the interference of outside Palestinian, Israeli and international groups trying to direct the way the village resists. He states that the village must direct the resistance and tell the outside groups how to assist. Now instead of demonstrations every Friday, the village has fruit and vegetable markets. Villagers say, “All is well” because they have a market where both Palestinians and Israelis, even Israeli soldiers, can come buy. Ata feels this is denying the reality that future demolitions are scheduled for 2009. One of Ata’s favorite quotes is “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” [Albert Einstein.]

Ata works in a convent in Ain Karem, a lovely Mediterranean type village that was also ethnically cleansed in 1948. Israelis now live in the homes of those expelled Palestinians. Before the illegal apartheid wall was built in the early 2000s Ata walked to Ain Karem in 40 minutes. With the wall and the checkpoint, which demands a work permit, it is now usually more than two hours and paid transportation. Before the house arrest order and more than two months without a work permit, Ata was the full time maintenance and grounds director. He lost his full time job, but works there now only two or three days a week. Sometimes he finds work for another day elsewhere. He is only able to get short term – 2-3 month work permits, which hopefully will continue to be renewed. In the near future all Palestinians who work in Jerusalem must enter and return through figure printing checkpoints. Lines will be longer, so arriving to work on time will be a problem.

Ata embroidered this during the Gaza invasion.
He saw the invasion and lack of international response
as a destruction of his dreams.

Ata was informed of MPT’s effort to enter Gaza and the invasion of Gaza was discussed. Ata said that Hamas gained power because of the terrible oppressive conditions in Gaza and the West Bank. For Ata and his family the invasion was totally devastating. They saw the world turn its back on Palestinian anguish. Palestinians suffer the invasion and the oppressive occupation and no one cares. Usually a visit with Ata is serious and realistic, but nonetheless hopeful and fun. This time the experience was one of much less hope. The twinkle is no longer in Ata’s eye. His face has changed. His hope now is in his bright children, all four are excellent students and two are exceptional. Their future may be in European educations.
Ata and Fatima's youngest son is an exceptional student and a great actor.
Their children are their hope for the future.

MPT this spring has heard more criticism of the USA than ever before. People here are not as hopeful as they once were. There is a sadness and an anger.

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