The Palestinian village of al Walaja sits on a beautiful hillside. Along with its endowed landscape, al Walaja is targeted by the Israeli authorities for impeding the dream of an ethnically monogamous ‘greater Jerusalem’. Since 1971 the Gilo and Har Gilo colonies adjacent to al Walaja have grown to the size of 40,000 settlers. In 2011, Israel announced that 1,400 new housing units would be built in Gilo. Additionally, residents expect construction of a new settlement: Givat Yael. The burdened and winding path of the Separation Wall adds to a sense of surrealism – natural beauty obstructed by lifeless concrete.
The village of al Walaja (Photo: Wikipedia)
In July of 2012 al Walaja community leaders received an updated plan of the wall’s construction from the Israeli government. The new map clearly demonstrates an intention to frustrate residents’ daily life and human dignity.Portions of the wall jut into the village, but provide no additional ‘security’ for Israel.The new plan also includes a wide gap in the wall, which the community hopes it can negotiate so that they can access the neighboring city of Beit Jalla unhindered.
Sheerin al Araj, a life-long resident and advocate of al Walaja, calls the village a “microcosm of Palestine”. All the problems accompanying segregation and occupation boil down into a space smaller than a square mile, she said.
Al Walaja is a historic village and farmland that originally stretched from southern Jerusalem to northern Bethlehem. The villagers lived on what became the Israeli side of the Green Line until 1947-1949, when they were expelled from their homes and then established ‘new’ al Walaja in its current location. Despite their continued residence within the Jerusalem municipal borders, villagers have been refused Jerusalem residency and identification cards, limiting their freedom of movement and other inalienable rights.
Restrictions will become tighter yet. Since 2010, villagers have witnessed Israel reinvigorate its construction of the Separation Wall. The wall has steadily wound its way around the village at a height of 8 meters.
Separation Wall in al Walaja (Photo: Marta Fortunato, AIC)
The community and its allies have utilized a broad toolbox in an attempt to halt the illegal and inhumane construction of the wall in al Walaja. Lawyers have been working with the community for years, local and international media has paid close attention to the villages’ struggle and peaceful protest has been waged with impeccable regularity.
Protesting the ongoing naqba in al Walaja, 2011 (Photo: Marta Fortunato, AIC)
Israel’s plan for the wall in al Walaja would completely encircle the village, further separating residents from their property. A single gate with restricted exit and entry would regulate the villagers’ access to the world around them. In effect, the map below from February 2011 depicts a walled prison within the greater entrapment of the West Bank.
On July 15th of 2012, Sheerin received an updated version of this map originating from the Civil Administration of the occupied Palestinian territories (DCL), a unit in the Israeli Military of Defense. Sheerin was the first of the community members to receive this map after two years of pressuring the DCL for an updated version of the Wall’s plan.
JULY 2012 MAP
The purple areas represent the Separation Wall.
The most significant difference between the February 2011 and July 2012 plans is the unexplained hole in a section of the wall facing the nearby village of Battir. The villagers’minimum demand is open access to the city of Beit Jalla in the Southeast. Sheerin is hoping that the community can compel the Israeli military administrative government to alter the opening so that it connects them to Beit Jalla and Bethlehem further East. The Israeli Civil Administration office for the area that includes al Walaja did not respond to inquiries.
In addition, the 2012 plan differs from previous versions because of discontinuous sections of the wall protruding into al Walaja territory. Under the current plan,the wall’s subsections can be bypassed on foot, thereby serving as an additional obstacle with no apparent ‘security’purpose.One of these strange extensions will envelop Sheerin’s house on three sides, wedging it into a narrow concrete corner with an exit no more than a few meters ahead.
In semi-serious jest, Sheerin advises her father to build another story to their home in order to maintain their view of the gorgeous hills.