|The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
The Israel Civil Administration (ICA) has indicated its intent to deposit for public review the outline plan (TPS 401-4-1) for "Har Gilo West," a new settlement south of Jerusalem on Al-Walaja lands (Area C), which will abut the built-up section of the village. Unless halted, the plan will be formally published for deposit in the public records within days, kicking off the 60-day period for submitting objections – a crucial step in advancing outline plans towards their approval. Therefore, swift action is necessary to prevent the plan’s advancement.
The Har Gilo West plan, which carries disastrous implications for Al-Walaja and ultimately for the political future of Jerusalem, should be seen within the context of the recent advancement of settlement plans for E1. Despite the Israeli government’s theoretical commitment to halt the E1 plans following US pushback, the ICA recently scheduled a session on the plans for July 18. Together the promotion of these settlement plans underscores the Israeli government's resolve to continue the process of de-facto annexation of the Greater Jerusalem area (the three large settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Givat Ze’ev around Jerusalem). Such measures further imperil any remaining prospects of an agreed political resolution, while trampling on Palestinian human rights.
Har Gilo West – an entirely new settlement
The plan for Har Gilo West (TPS 401-4-1) calls for the construction of 560 housing units in Area C on 205 dunams of Al-Walaja lands situated on the western slopes of the village along the perimeter of the Al-Walaja bypass road. This plan is the first stage of a much larger project totaling a number of 1004 housing units on an area of 940 dunams, which will extend all the way to the Jerusalem municipal boundary.
Although approved for deposit by the Civil Administration in October 2020, TPS 401-4-1 had not advanced since then. Having artificially extended the Har Gilo boundaries of jurisdiction to include the area designated for the new settlement, the Israeli authorities depict the plan as an expansion of the existing Har Gilo settlement. However, in reality, Har Gilo West will be entirely detached from the existing settlement with part of the built-up area of Al-Walajeh lying between the two settlements. Likewise, Har Gilo is situated on one side of the Separation Barrier, whereas the planned settlement would be located on the other.
Artificially redrawing the borders of jurisdiction is common policy and practice, which enables Israel to construct new settlements, while claiming it is "only" expanding existing ones. In a similar manner, the municipal boundaries of the Maaleh Adumim settlement were artificially extended to include the area where Israel intends to construct the E1 settlement.
It should be underscored that the Israeli government’s advancement of this new settlement plan stands in stark contrast to its longstanding refusal to approve an outline plan for the northern part of Al-Walaja, which it annexed in 1967 and has since effectively been part of the Jerusalem municipality. As such, this area has been under threat of mass demolition for years. Recent pressures and a legal appeal have extended a demolition freeze on at least 38 homes and compelled the state to allow the village to attempt to initiate an outline plan on its own, which is a complicated and expensive task, yet is not willing to fulfill its responsibility to design one itself. In the absence of an approved plan, demolitions of homes not protected by the freeze in the Jerusalem section have continued, including during the month of May.
The Settlement Plan’s Disastrous Impact on Al-Walaja
If constructed, Har Gilo West will have a devastating impact on Al-Walaja:
Construction of this new settlement will complete the encirclement of the village. Today, Al-Walaja is surrounded by the Separation Barrier from three directions. Building the new settlement will seal off its only remaining open side (western side) and turn Al-Walaja into a walled-off enclave, disconnected from the surrounding Palestinian environs.
The new settlement will likewise precipitate the destruction of agricultural lands, demolition of homes, and further restrictions on Al Walaja’s future development. The settlement’s residential units are planned to be built near Al-Walaja homes situated on the western side of the built-up area of the village (Area C). According to the ICA, a 7-meter-high barrier is to be constructed between Har Gilo West and the built-up area of Al-Walaja for "security reasons.” Due to the proximity of the two areas, construction of the barrier will inevitably destroy Al Walaja’s agricultural lands and in some cases may lead to the demolition of village homes, as was stated in the previous ICA session on the plan. With the barrier’s construction, Al-Walaja will be not only be completely encircled, but the barrier will be built just meters away from many of its homes and will lead to restrictions on the village’s further development.
Further confiscation of Al-Walaja lands
As mentioned above, construction of Har Gilo West has been designated for Al-Walaja lands in Area C, including private land owned by Al Walajeh residents, which is not recognized by the Israeli authorities. Al-Walaja has already lost most of its land over the years. 12,000 dunams located on the Israeli side of the Green Line were lost in 1948. Since 1967, Israel has seized roughly 50% of remaining Al-Walaja lands beyond the Green Line for construction of settlements, the Separation Barrier, and an Israeli National Park. If constructed, the new settlement will only confiscate more of the little land left for the village.De Facto Annexation of “Greater Jerusalem”
Beyond its direct impact on Al-Walaja, the construction of Har Gilo West will likewise contribute to the de facto annexation of Greater Jerusalem by creating further Israeli territorial contiguity between the settlements in the Bethlehem area (Gush Etzion bloc) and Jerusalem, while fracturing the Palestinian space in this area. Such measures undermine the viability of a future contiguous Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.