Yesterday, MPT had the chance to visit Al-Walaja, a village just northwest of Bethlehem. MPT had formerly been based in a town nearby, and has written several reports about the situation in al-Walaja.
The trip from Huwwara to Al-Walaja was 3-4 hours on the way there, and the same on the way back. The distance between them is only about 30 miles. Due to all the Israeli military checkpoints, roadblocks, and the Separation Wall put in place by Israel for “security reasons,” travel in the West Bank takes much longer.
Al-Walaja as it is today is “new.” “Old” Al-Walaja had been confiscated by the Israelis in 1948 for the Gilo and Har Gilo settlements. The number of Palestinian refugees today tracing back their origin to “old” Al-Walaja is estimated to be above 11,000. Some of the residents of “old” Al-Walaja built “new” Al-Walaja nearby, and we could see “old” al-Walaja from the home of our friend Ata and his family.
Al-Walaja, with the settlement of Gilo in the background (click to enlarge)
Ata related a number of stories to us about Al-Walaja, especially stories affecting “new” Al-Walaja today. The present community of Al-Walaja is threatened constantly with the demolition of their homes, for example. His home has been threatened for several years (though usually the families only have 18 months). He told us about how his neighbor’s home had been demolished by the Israeli army, but also how the community worked together and rebuilt the house. They worked day and night during the winter and were able to finish it within 23 days after the demolition. Ten months later, the new home had been demolished.
The residents of Al-Walaja also have to endure harassment. Ata’s son, Muhammad, 15, had been arrested when he went down into the valley for water after the water in Al-Walaja had been turned off. Just recently, he was arrested again at a checkpoint near Jerusalem. On top of that, the planned construction of the Separation Wall will enclose and trap the village.
Yet Ata and his family have been able to remain cheerful, and were very gracious to us. Ata lightened the mood with a number of jokes, saying that he wanted to make us laugh because he knows how hard it can be for young people like us to come and see what’s going on.
Watch for more to come about the situation in Al-Walaja . . .