|The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
The residents of the annexed portion (Ein Juweize) of al-Walajeh, a traditional Palestinian agricultural village located along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem, are under acute threat of being forcibly uprooted from where they have lived and cultivated the land for centuries. A court injunction, currently preventing the demolition of 38 homes, could be lifted by the Supreme Court in nine days, subjecting residents to wide-scale displacement. See map below.
On March 30, 2022, a decisive Supreme Court hearing will be held on the al-Walajeh residents' 2018 appeal (see more below), which is currently protecting the 38 homes from demolition. In June 2021, the State Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the appeal is no longer relevant since the State had fulfilled its demands. If the Supreme Court ultimately dismisses the appeal, the demolition freeze would be lifted, placing the 38 homes at imminent risk of being razed and some 300 Palestinians under threat of displacement.
There is reason to believe that the demolitions would be executed swiftly since the National Enforcement Unit under the Ministry of Finance has assumed responsibility for the building enforcement in this area as of 2016 (following enactment of the Kaminitz Law). This unit is considered the most aggressive Israeli enforcement body. Indeed, in the past five years, the unit has carried out demolition orders in this section of al-Walajeh immediately after the conclusion of court proceedings.
Roughly a dozen additional homes not protected by the appeal likewise face impending demolitions, four of which were carried out over the past six months, including one in December 2021. Nearly half of the homes in the annexed part of al-Walajeh have received demolition orders, and approximately 30 have already been executed since 2016. These mass demolition orders, which are a direct result of the absence of urban planning, threaten to uproot hundreds of al-Walajeh residents for a second time.
After being displaced from their lands on the Israeli side of the Green Line in 1948, al-Walajeh residents rebuilt their homes on village lands that remained on the West Bank side of the Green Line. In 1967, the northern section of the village was annexed to Israel and integrated into the Jerusalem municipality. Today, this part of the village is a small community of approximately 150 homes, which were mostly built after 1967 and therefore considered “illegal” and subject to demolition by the Israeli authorities under the pretext of lacking building permits. Yet, the Israeli planning bodies have systematically neglected to prepare or approve a zoning plan for the area, which makes it impossible to obtain building permits. In an attempt to legalize their homes, a zoning plan was initiated by the residents themselves, which the authorities had for years declined to review.
Class Action Lawsuit
In response, the al-Walajeh community initiated legal proceedings to demand that the authorities review their plan and allow for the legalization of homes as well as future development in this section of the village. An initial class action lawsuit was filed concerning 38 homes, however, since a demolition freeze was not obtained, the residents ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court in 2018. An immediate injunction was received, which has since provided temporary protection for the 38 homes included in the appeal. Early in the proceedings, an expert opinion by Bimkom was submitted to the court for review.
In May 2020, the Supreme Court explicitly ordered the District Planning Committee to convene and discuss the community's plan. The committee ultimately reviewed the plan in January 2021, but rejected it based on unfounded and contradictory claims. In its decision, the committee also placed harsh conditions on the possibility of advancing a fair planning scheme in the future.
As mentioned above, the 2018 appeal will now go before the Supreme Court on March 30, 2022 in what is expected to be a decisive hearing that could lead to the removal of the demolition freeze protecting the 38 homes.
Administrative Petition and Efforts to Advance Planning
In an attempt to challenge the Planning Committee's decision on the residents’ plan, an administrative petition was filed to the Jerusalem District Court by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), representing al-Walajeh residents together with Bimkom, Ir Amim and Israeli activists. In the hearing which took place in October 2021, the court ruled that the conditions placed towards further planning were not permanent, implying that the District Committee would be expected to objectively consider a new plan. To this end, the residents have begun a new planning process, including advancement of an official environmental survey, which is a necessary pre-requisite for any future planning.
It should be underscored, however, that despite the planning progress and the aforementioned District Court's decision, there is still a risk of home demolitions should the Supreme Court rule on March 30 to dismiss the 2018 appeal and lift the injunction.
The Geopolitical Alongside the Prevention of Equitable Planning
The threat of largescale demolition in al-Walajeh in conjunction with the construction of settlements and the Separation Barrier around the village should be seen within the context of creeping annexation of "Greater Jerusalem" (the three large settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev around Jerusalem). These measures aim to create further Israeli territorial contiguity between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the Bethlehem area and East Jerusalem while fragmenting the Palestinian space in this area, which undermines the prospect of a negotiated political resolution.
Beyond the geopolitical implications, al-Walajeh is yet another example of the severe discrimination within Israeli planning and building policy in Jerusalem. While zoning plans for thousands of housing units are advanced for Israeli settlements and neighborhoods across the city, equitable residential development is virtually neglected in planning schemes for Palestinian areas; this is despite Palestinians constituting nearly 40% of Jerusalem’s population. Yet, a devastating number of home demolitions continue to take place. Palestinian communities throughout East Jerusalem, including al-Walajeh, are aggressively targeted for so-called building offenses due to a reality which has been directly created by the Israeli authorities' abdication of responsibility and intentional discriminatory planning policies. The ongoing disparities in the city’s urban planning policies has long served as a lever of Palestinian displacement from the city in service to Israel's goal of preserving a Jewish demographic majority and further cementing territorial control in Jerusalem.
In order to prevent the largescale destruction of this part of the village, the State of Israel must fulfill its obligation to uphold al-Walajeh residents’ rights to housing and shelter. The Israeli government must be called upon to indefinitely freeze all demolitions in al-Walajeh, while allowing for and assisting in the advancement of an equitable urban planning solution. Such a solution should not only retroactively authorize existing homes, but also provide for proper future residential development alongside preserving the unique and traditional agricultural lifestyle still prevalent in al-Walajeh today.