Before 1948 Al Walaja was one of the largest villages in the southwest of Jerusalem. During the 1948 War Israel captured the northern part of the village, expelling the villagers and confiscating 65% of their land. These Al Walaja refugees went to refugee camps in other countries and in Palestine, but some lived in nearby caves eventually building homes on the village’s land that remained in the West Bank, after the 1948 War, creating a new Al Walaja.
After the 1967 War, the Israelis expanded the borders of Jerusalem and annexed Jerusalem to Israel. The northern part of the village taken in 1948 was included in the Jerusalem border expansions, but the new Al Walaja residents did not know that their lands were also annexed and that they should have been provided with Jerusalem IDs. From 1967 to 1985, all of Al Walaja was ruled by the Israeli Military Authority which governed the West Bank. During this time no services (water, electricity) were provided from either the Military Authority or the Jerusalem Municipality.
In 1985, the Jerusalem Municipal Court issued orders to demolish homes in Al Walaja stating lack of proper permits from the Jerusalem Municipality. With these orders, the villagers learned that their land had been annexed to Jerusalem. A residents committee was formed to defend the land, to organize demonstrations, to hire a lawyer and to appeal for the cancellation of the demolition orders. Since 1985 more than 33 homes have been demolished in Al Walaja and more than 100 people were left homeless. Most of these people left the village, as refugees for the second time. Since 1990, the Israelis have issued demolition orders for another 55 homes. Persons whose homes are under order of demolition pay monthly fines for having a home without a permit. When homes are demolished, the family must pay the demolition costs.
Since 2004, the Israelis have increased pressure on the village arresting, convicting and imprisoning scores of people, The Israeli High Court declared that the Israeli Occupation Forces must cease their campaign of arrests, but that residents must provide proof of presence on the land in 1967 and therefore the right to stay on the land. Residents cannot provide the needed documentation, such as electrical bills and water bills, because these were never provided by any Israeli authority. Arrests and imprisonments have continued. At one time bus drivers were issued huge fines for driving their routes in the village. At times, all exits to the village were blocked and people had to walk many miles to leave the village.
The village fought back by getting an urban planner to design a master plan. Previous Israeli maps were gotten to show that homes were present in certain areas before and since 1967. Residents are encouraged by the Israelis to seek Jerusalem IDs which would then be a statement of acceptance of the Jerusalem annexation.The elementary school in Al Walaja for 300 children was in 3 rented homes and very inadequate. About a year ago a new school was completed with donations from the villagers and their labor, but it is without a permit and could be demolished.
MPT has visited this village a couple times a year since 2007. In the last two years, but particularly in the last few months more and more land has been bull dozed, a wall put up, settlement homes constructed, roads built and land prepared for the 3-storey concrete wall. Any land that is empty will be taken for settlement housing. It would seem that Israel is making a tremendous effort to enlarge as many settlement areas as possible before Obama really enforces the no settlement policy.
MPTer visited a family with a beautiful new home not yet completely constructed. The man had worked in Israel so he speaks both Arabic and Hebrew and was visiting with a young Israeli activist. As MPTers drove into his yard, they passed an archeological crew digging under the protection of an armed guard. To prove that land was Israel in ancient times, archeological digs are done. This crew folded their tent and left before MPT.
The man with the new home had retired, planted a small garden and had fruit and olive trees descending down the mountain. His family gravesite was a bit further down the hill. This week, soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces will accompany the bull dozers which will destroy his garden and trees and level an area in order to build a wall. This wall will be a continuation of the three storey wall around Jerusalem. His family burial plot will be on the other side of the wall. In time the whole village of Al Walaja will be encircled with this high wall and have only one exit.
MPTers and the family they had visited in Beit Sahour were invited to a delicious meal by an Al Walaja family they have visited over the years. This family had begun to add on a room to their home. They have now only 2 small bedrooms and need one more. This building is being done without a unattainable permit, so could “invite” demolition. This family has helped various families rebuild a home that has been demolished – collecting money from other villagers and organizing workers.
The family told us that now there are daily interactions with the soldiers. They said, “You can say that we are living with the soldiers.”
The family has very intellect children. What is their future? How will they be able to go to the university? How can they return to their village, be safe and earn a living? But most of the preoccupation now is with the here and now and wondering if the demolition order will come in the morning or the next week.
Added on June 10th: Please view these videos on YouTube to see the destruction of the olive trees and the protest.