|The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
The residents of the northern part of al-Walajeh, located on the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem (see map below), are under acute threat of being forcibly uprooted from their village, where they have lived and cultivated the land for decades. A court injunction, currently preventing the demolition of 38 homes, could be lifted by the end of April, subjecting residents to wide-scale displacement. The Israeli authorities have neglected to prepare an outline plan for this area, which precludes the possibility of obtaining building permits. As a result, many families have no choice, but to build without permits, thereby placing their homes at risk of demolition.
On January 25, the District Planning Committee, which convened by order of the Supreme Court, rejected the possibility for residents to formally legalize their homes and further develop this part of the village. Dictated by political considerations, the planning committee's decision contradicts itself, is disconnected from the reality on the ground, and above all represents an outdated approach to planning. In an effort to challenge the decision, residents in conjunction with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) submitted a request to appeal to the National Planning Committee. Two days ago on March 8, that request was officially denied, and a legal petition against the District Planning Committee's January decision is currently underway.
After being uprooted from its lands on the Israeli side of the Green Line in 1948, al-Walajeh was rebuilt on village lands which remained on the West Bank side of the Green Line. In 1967, the northern section of the village was annexed to Israel and absorbed into Jerusalem. Today, this part of the village is a small community of roughly 150 homes, which were mostly built after 1967 and considered illegal by the Israeli authorities due to the impossibility of procuring building permits. Over the years, dozens of homes have been razed in the annexed part of the village. Since 2016, there has been a significant rise in the number of home demolitions in this area of al-Walajeh as a result of increased enforcement and penalization of building offenses in Palestinian residential areas in Jerusalem. More than 20 houses have been demolished in the past five years. While 38 homes currently face pending demolition orders, many others are at risk of receiving them, subjecting nearly the entire community to the threat of widespread demolition and displacement.
Final Rejection of Resident-Initiated Outline Plan Based on Dubious Claims
For more than a decade, the District Planning Committee refused to discuss an outline plan initiated by the residents. However, as a result of a recent Supreme Court order following a petition filed by the annexed portion of the village, the committee was obligated to hold a discussion of the plan. The committee not only rejected the plan, but it also placed severe restrictions regarding any future planning attempt in the area. In its decision, the committee depicted this area of al-Walajeh not as a Jerusalem neighborhood devoid of proper planning and development by the Israeli authorities, but rather as an ancient agricultural area in need of environmental conservation and conversion into a park. Moreover, according to the decision, only structures built before 1967 and additions made to them can be legalized, hence paving the way for wide-scale demolitions in the village.
The designation of areas as national parks, nature reserves, and/or green spaces is a common practice of Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem to suppress Palestinian planning and residential development while allowing for the seizure of their lands to serve Israeli interests. Although the planning committee dismissed the village's outline plan for the purpose of ostensibly promoting nature conservation, plans for Israeli settlement construction in the same area on lands confiscated from al-Walajeh have all been advanced. This includes expansion of the Gilo neighborhood/settlement (to the east of the village), the al-Walajeh Bypass Road and the new settlement of Har Gilo West (see more below). Not only does this reveal the baseless nature of the committee's claims concerning environmental considerations, but also underscores the rampant planning and housing discrimination leveled against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Likewise, the committee's citation that the area's traditional and historical agricultural assets must be preserved explicitly overlooks the village's essential role in this centuries-old preservation. Continued cultivation of the land and conservation of the surrounding landscape is inextricably tied to the existence of the village and the close proximity of their homes to their agricultural lands.
If the planning stranglehold is not rectified, and wide-scale home demolitions are ultimately carried out, it will lead to the complete destruction of this part of al-Walajeh, causing mass dispossession and amounting to a form of forcible transfer similar to the pending case of Khan al-Ahmar, the Bedouin village under threat of expulsion in the E1/Maaleh Adumim settlement bloc.
Culmination of Pressures as a Mechanism of Forced Displacement
This section of al-Walajeh has for years been at risk of being uprooted (for a second time) as a result of combined Israeli measures carried out in the past decade. Israel has been gradually confiscating al-Walajeh lands and detaching it from the Palestinian space around it. While its northern segment is situated within the Jerusalem municipal borders, the construction of the Separation Barrier between 2010 and 2017 around three sides of the village turned it into a nearly isolated enclave. The barrier severed it from the rest of the city, while likewise separating it from some 1200 dunams of the village's agricultural lands now located on the Israeli side of the barrier. In tandem, these lands were declared by the Israeli Authorities as the Nahal Refaim National Park, a form of “touristic settlement,” which would serve to create Israeli territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the Har Gilo settlement (part of the Gush Etzion bloc), constituting another link in the de facto annexation of "Greater Jerusalem." If approved, the plan for the new Har Gilo West settlement—designated on al-Walajeh lands southeast of the village—would lead to the extension of the Separation Barrier, which will encompass and seal off the village entirely, completely cutting it off from its surroundings.
The District Committee’s final rejection of the resident-initiated outline plan is hence a culmination of a series of Israeli efforts to create an untenable environment to forcibly drive its residents out and seize their land in service to Israel's longstanding territorial and demographic goals, including the actualization of the "Greater Jerusalem" vision. In this way, Israel furthers its consolidation of control along the southern perimeter, while carrying out grave human rights violations and sabotaging any prospect of a negotiated agreement in Jerusalem.
Upcoming Legal Proceedings
A subsequent hearing at the Supreme Court on the village's original appeal concerning its outline plan is scheduled for April 26. There is apprehension among the residents that the court will not rule in their favor, leading to the removal of the demolition freeze pertaining to 38 homes and thus paving the way for mass destruction in this community.
Ir Amim and Bimkom will continue to update concerning any respective developments.