|On June 21, 2021, objections to the plan (TPS YOSH-938) for expansion of the Al-Walaja bypass road (Road 385) will be discussed at the Higher Planning Council of the Israeli Civil Administration. The road specifically links the Har Gilo settlement to Jerusalem and serves settler traffic between the city and the rest of the settlements of the Gush Etzion Regional Council (Gush Etzion bloc) in the Bethlehem area. The direct reason for expansion of the road is the intent to construct a new settlement, Har Gilo West, comprised of 560 housing units (TPS 401-4-1) on land belonging to the Al-Walaja village located adjacent to the road.
The existing road, however, was constructed on the basis of a military seizure order and therefore in order to expand it to serve the new settlement, TPS YOSH-938 is needed to replace the military seizure, as explained in greater detail in an alert from August 2020. The expansion of the road is a precondition for construction of the new settlement.
Residents of the Jerusalem section of Al-Walaja together with Ir Amim and Bimkom submitted a lengthy objection in December 2020 against the plan for expansion of the bypass road. The objection details how the plan is being advanced in complete disregard of the law and the rights of Al-Walaja landowners, while citing the plan's projected damage to the surrounding landscape and environment. This objection among others will be discussed at the Higher Planning Council's session on June 21, 2021.
If TPS YOSH-938 is indeed approved, the plan for the new Har Gilo West settlement could therefore advance. Construction of the new settlement would lead to the extension of the Separation Barrier, which will encircle the Al-Walaje village entirely, completely walling it off from its surroundings. The Jerusalem portion of the village has been for years under immense Israeli pressures. Israel has been gradually confiscating Al-Walaja lands and detaching it from the Palestinian space around it, while physically severing it from the rest of East Jerusalem. It has become a nearly isolated enclave surrounded by the Separation Barrier and Israeli settlement projects, including a national park on Al-Walaja agricultural lands, which serve to create Israeli territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in service to Israel's "Greater Jerusalem" vision.
The current most pressing issue is the 38 homes, which face pending demolition orders, subjecting some 300 residents to the risk of wide-scale displacement. While there is a court injunction temporarily preventing the demolitions from being carried out, it could be lifted once the Supreme Court decides to reconvene a hearing on the matter. Originally scheduled for the end of April 2021, the court agreed to postpone the hearing to allow for further negotiations between the residents and the Israeli authorities. No new date for the hearing has been set.
Ir Amim will continue to update on any further developments.