Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Israeli justice: High Court rules that village of Walaja may be completely walled in

A recent decsion by the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the village of Walaja, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem,  is probably one of those decisions which is most telling about what in Israel erroneously  is perceived as justice. It is worth to give it some attention, because it illustrates to what extend the law in Israel can be bend in favour of 'security considerations'.
The decision in question was taken on 22 August and concerned the trajectory of the Separation Wall. The  Court ruled that the section northwest of the village can be completed in such a way that the Wall will completely enclose the village. As a consequence the 2400 people who currently live in the village will come to live in an open air prison. In order to get in and out they will have to pass a checkpoint.
The village municipality and residents in a 2010 petition  had reasoned that the Wall’s route also harms the old cemetery of the village and divides residents from the spring which has served them for hundreds of years. Apart from that the building of the Wall would also harm tens of dunams of agricultural land and result in the uprooting of olive and other trees and a cutting off of the village landowners from their land.
Israeli High Court justices Dorit Beinisch, Asher Gronis and Uzi Fogelman, however,  ruled that in matters of security and defense, it is important to give significant weight to the professional opinion of the military commanders on the ground.The justices ruled, according to Haaretz, that despite the damage caused to the agricultural lands of the villagers by the security fence, its extent is relatively limited compared to what the petitioners claim.The court also noted that during deliberations, the army clarified that two gates will be open for several hours, three times a day, which would allow relatively unhindered access to villagers wanting to work their land.
"Against these infringements one must weigh the security value stemming from the construction of the security fence," the justices wrote in their ruling."In view of this situation, we believe that the harm caused by the fence's route to the petitioners is reasonable and proportionate in comparison to the great security value that results from the fence along this route."  The Court did agree, however, that the natural water spring will remain in the village while a tunnel will be built to allow residents to reach the cemetery.
 The map illustrates Walaja's situation, on the 'green line' . annexed to Greater Jerusalem (although the inhabitants never got the status and ID cards of inhabitanst of the city, and at one side threatened by the steady encroachment of the settlemenets of Gilo and Har Gilo. The blocked red line is where the Wall is going to be when finished.

The Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements of al-Walaja denounced the High Court ruling, contending in a statement that “the decision of the High Court provides a legal status to state violence”.
The Committee further denounced the court decision to accept the plan to put agricultural gates as a way to ensure access of the farmers to their land. During the trial the residents presented data gathered by the United Nations which demonstrate that in places where agricultural gates were constructed, less than 18% of the farmers succeeded in actually maintaining access to their land.

For Sheerin al-Araj, one the leaders of the popular resistance, the Israeli plan for the occupied West Bank village of al-Walaja is clear: make daily life impossible for its Palestinian residents in an effort to force them off their ancestral lands and empty the village entirely.
They cannot afford [to displace] people by force, in front of cameras with little children and women crying and screaming. So they have to do it more strategically. And the way to do it is by making life impossible for us, and making life impossible is actually building a wall, building a settlement, [building] a gate where we will all be hostage to one 18-year-old [Israeli soldier who] will decide for us when to leave and when to come in,” al-Araj, a member of the Walaja Village Council, explained.
We will eventually have nowhere to go because they are already taking [away] our natural growth areas. So if not [in] twenty years, it will be forty years and this place will be empty. It’s an ethnic cleansing process. It’s a clear-cut ethnic cleansing process,” she said.

The - as  yet not completed - Wall in Walaja. 

It is not the first time that Walaja is a victim of Israel's politics of colonization. The village was originally, befoire 1948, located at a different place. This is what Palestine remembered memorizes:
  The village was occupied in October 1948, but Palestinian and Egyptian guerillas fought off the Israeli battalions and successfully defended their village. Several times they were able to force the occupation troops to withdraw, but in the end the village was occupied. (Al Khalidi, Walid 1992: All That Remains). The village was then destroyed, and Aminadav settlement was built on its lands along with an Israeli park. The people of Walaja, who numbered some 1200 people at that time, were expelled and turned into refugees. Some of them remained in lands of Al Walaja that were not occupied, while the rest left to Jordan, or moved into the refugee camps in Bethlehem. 
After 1967 the Occupation annexed the rest of Walaja to the Occupation municipality of Jerusalem, but without giving the people from Walaja the right to live in Jerusalem, who were then threatened with expulsion once again. Since the late 80sThe Occupation forces have been using various policies against the people to force them to leave what is left from the village, including house demolitions and repeated arrests against the 3000 people living now in the village, using the pretext that ؟they have West Bank identification cards and are living in Jerusalem. (...)
Abu Nidal, a farmer from the village, says: ''This not the real Walaja, this is part of its lands, and the original Walaja was between Battir and Malha. In 1948, it was destroyed by the occupation bulldozers more than once and its lands were confiscated. After 1967, the occupation confiscated the rest of its lands for the ''Gilo'' settlement, Gilo is built on more than one third of Walaja's lands. In the seventies the Settlers in Aminadav took over more lands from Walaja and began cultivating them, while the occupation forces sued the Walaja farmers, claiming that they were using the lands of the 'Stae of Israel' although the 'truce line' is far from us, but they considered these lands as 'n man's' lands. They [occupation forces] also planted a forest on the green line but they crossed it. After 1948 the people of Walaja moved to these lands here, they lived in mud houses, and caves, the ones who had money lived in stone houses, we had nothing here, no services, no roads, no water or electricity supplies. We created everything in the following years, but we still hoped we would return. The ones who settled here were part of the village؟s people, the rest went to Jordan, now there are twenty thousand refugees in Jordan camps from Al Walaja, another part are living in Bethlehem؟s refugee camps.(...) After the occupation of 1967, the Occupation decided to consider Walaja as a Jerusalem area. They claim that it was annexed in 1967, but they never informed us until 1987 when they came and started demolishing our houses under the pretext that we do not have building permits from the Occupation municipality in Jerusalem. Until now 15 houses have been demolished, 52 other houses are still waiting in courts. This is in addition to the fines the people have to pay, which are usually between 20 to 50 thousands NIS depending on the area where the house is located. The new policy they are using now is they invade people؟s houses in the night and arrest the men, accusing them of staying in Jerusalem while they do not have Jerusalem Identification cards, and they take them out from their beds. Five brothers were arrested last week [interview on April 28 2004] under the same pretext. The brothers are from Abd Sheikh Family, and another two brothers were arrested too, although their house has been there since the British mandate in Palestine. They are sending them to military courts; they want to uproot us from here. This is a policy of terrorizing and expulsion. They keep coming and warning the people to leave their houses, but not officially. The people here are afraid all the time that they will be arrested or to have their houses demolished. The Wall according to the maps is about settlements, there are several settlement projects on the lands they are confiscating, and most of Walaja lands have been surveyed for new settlements.  We do not know what our destiny will be, what they are planning for us, we will be refugees more than one time.

What is less known, is that the area around Walaja is of high archeological value. There are remnnats of settlemenst from the Roman era and ecavations of older setllements- going back 4000 years - still have to begin. Also the landscape is spcial, with several wells and terraces shaped for agriculataral purposes. Further reading here. 

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