by salam max
Several bulldozers, accompanied by Israeli military jeeps and police, arrived in Walaja village on Monday 17th January. They destroyed around ten small buildings, on the grounds that they were “built illegally” by the Palestinian residents.
Al Walaja currently has seventy homes with demolition orders from the State of Israel, all of them pending a final court decision. Israel annexed the Anajwazah neighborhood of Walaja as part of Jerusalem in 1981, but denied the residents Blue Jerusalem ID cards and forbade the building or extension of houses.
Wael Al-Araj, who works in a children’s centre in Walaja, thought those seventy homes were going to be destroyed on Monday, despite the pending court order. A call for international support went out, but the buildings destroyed were mostly small farm buildings—pigeon-coups, sheds, workshops. There were no arrests or injuries.
This small-scale invasion of Walaja village is seen as a precursor to a larger attack, to test the response of the villagers: “What can we do?” asked Al-Araj: “The legal orders of the courts say to stop the home demolitions until a final decision is made, but who knows if the army will comply. Why have they destroyed these small buildings? They don’t listen to courts. The highest court of all, in The Hague, ruled to take down the Wall and Israel ignores it; what hope is there for us?”
Walid Abu-Kiara signed a form promising not to build any more on his land, in exchange for the single-floor outhouse he had built only being half destroyed. Another man had to demolish the shed and the pigeon coup on his land himself: to prevent a Caterpillar bulldozer from making extra damage to his land by demolishing them, he was told the only other option was to break them up himself with a hammer.
The following Tuesday, the army entered Walaja again, and confiscated the remaining bus from the village, denying the residents the only form of public transport left to them since their other bus was also confiscated late last year. The reason for these confiscations is linked to the fact that Israel annexed this part of land in the 1980’s: the bus driver has a West Bank ID card, but Walaja is technically part of Jerusalem where he needs special permission to drive; which means he was “driving illegally.”
These demolitions came just two days before a Palestinian holiday, when families were buying food and preparing for festivities. It is pointless to speculate whether this was coincidence or deliberate timing; either way, the holiday in Walaja has been ruined by these developments.
The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality wants to build a settlement called Givat Yael on the land of Walaja. The only thing stopping them now is politics: Israel does not want to be seen to be destroying villages and building new settlements whilst “Bulldozer” Sharon is busy painting himself as a peace-maker with his unilateral disengagement of the Gaza settlements. It has, however, become clear that the State of Israel is stepping up the campaign against the residents of Walaja.
In fact, these home demolitions and denial of rights to Walaja are a continuation of the 1948 catastrophe, when over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed or evacuated. In the twenty-first century, however, it is not politic to ethnically cleanse a land of its inhabitants: nowadays, forcing the indigenous population from their homeland is done with a guise of legality; wrapped up in the language of building or driving permits, ID cards, and court-rulings. In other words, it is the Nakba continued but with better PR.
In the 1967 war, Israel forced the original inhabitants of Walaja village from their land, and those refugees moved to the other side of the valley or beyond. The remains of the last two houses of the original village, now known as “Old Walaja”, still stand empty on the edge of what is supposed to be the Green Line.
Wael Al-Araj saw his own home demolished in 1990. He described how difficult it is to watch your house be destroyed in just minutes after you built it up brick by brick over the years. Yet, he remains steadfast: “We will never leave this land. We will stay here until we die. We will sleep under the sky if we have to. Where else is there for us to go? There is nowhere.”
“Put yourself in our shoes—what would you do?”
Who will defend Walaja village now? Without international and Israeli support for the villagers, Walaja is in danger of disappearing. There is no trace left of “Old Walaja” on the Israeli side of the valley which makes up the Green Line: what will be left of “New Walaja” in the years to come?
For more information and history of Walaja, go to: