The village of al-Walajah is at the southeastern edge of occupied Jerusalem adjacent to Beit Jala and Bethlehem and is designated Area B and C under the Oslo accords of 1995.1 Once a thriving agricultural village famous for its lush fields, springs, almonds, peaches and ancient olive trees, the village is now set to be completely encircled by the Annexation Wall. An Israeli occupation checkpoint near Har Gilo colony is planned to be the only means of entering and exiting the village.2
According to Ottoman era documents, the village’s origins date back to the late sixteenth century and was centered on the hilltop across from the village’s current location. Villagers recount hearing from their grandparents how the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway in the valley below made daily stops at al-Walajah to collect village produce to be sold in Jerusalem.3 The village lands once spanned some 17 km above and across the stunningly beautiful Karm al-Wali valley.
Al-Walajah village is surrounded by mnay springs (ein): in the north al-’allayik, al-Sheikh Ismaeil, al-Hayeh, al-Jozeh, al-Balad, al-Sodah, and Sayf; in the east: al-Sharqyah, ‘Awad, al-’absyah; and in the center of the village: al-Dalbah, Abu Sameer, Sha’ab, Fleifel, Hilal, and ‘asfour. The village is also surrounded by valleys such as Wadi Ahmad, ‘erq al-Sheikh Khalil, and Wadi al-Henyah.
In the 1948, Nakba villagers fled across the valley toward the east, a path which aligned with the armistice line of 1949. Israel occupied almost 74% of al-Walajah, demolishing homes and buildings and replacing them with the colonies of Aminadav. After 1948, many of al-Walajah’s displaced residents found themselves in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, in Jordan, and beyond. The number of refugees from al-Walajah currently in Jordan is estimated at approximately 12,500.4 Those who remained on the eastern side of al-Walajah’s land erected makeshift tents or lived in caves as they waited for an end to hostilities and a return home. Over the years, ‘Lower al-Walajah’ reestablished itself on the hilltop across the valley.
In June 1967, Israel completed the occupation of al-Walajah, including the newly built centre on the eastern hilltop. Though the Jerusalem occupation municipality extended its jurisdiction over al-Walajah and its lands, the residents were not granted Jerusalem IDs.
The tiny village of al-Walajah seems to epitomize the ongoing Palestinian Nakba with its residents facing ongoing displacement, ethnic cleansing and assault on their very existence since 1948. Alongside the small-scale agricultural holdings of the residents, the rural tranquility of al-Walajah today attracts people on picnic day trips and those looking for quiet weekends away. The village is home to two small mosques and a primary school built by the residents and funded by UNRWA.5
The construction of the Annexation Wall in al-Walajah, which in some places is only metres from residential homes in the village, has been met with organised community resistance. Residents organise peaceful protests, block Israeli bulldozers with their bodies, and campaign internationally to oppose the construction of the Wall. The children of al-Walajah also use art advocacy and exhibitions to convey the story of their ordeal and steadfastness amidst the ongoing confiscation of their land and the building of the Wall such as the I am al-Walajah exhibition in which children told the story of their village through photographs they took.6 Additionally, petitions have been submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court against the route of the Wall, but these have been rejected on the grounds of the “security threat” al-Walajah is said to pose.
The struggle in al-Walajah is evidence that a just solution for Palestine cannot be found in simply ending the occupation of 1967. The roots of al-Walajah’s problem – and of Palestine – lie in the ethnic cleansing of 1948. The occupation of 1967 and the construction of the colonies and of the Annexation Wall are but a continuation of this initial injustice.
Land Expropriation and Colonial Expansion
After the 1948 Nakba, Israel annexed 49,000 dunums of al-Walajah’s land and an additional 7,000 dunams were confiscated after 1967 to build and expand the Israeli colonies of Gilo, Har Gilo, Moshav Ora, and Aminadav. In 2004, Israel announced the construction of the Giva’at Yael colony on land belonging to al-Walajah’s residents. Most recently, in 2013, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved plans to establish a national park (‘Emek Refaim) on the lands of al-Walajah village, which will lead to the confiscation of an additional 1,500 dunums.7
The Annexation and Expansion Wall
In 2006, the Israeli Ministry of Defence ordered that the Annexation Wall should encircle the village with barriers on all sides, separating the villagers from their agricultural land, severely violating their freedom of movement, and disconnecting them from their neighbouring villages of Battir and Husan.8 A single road leading to Beit Jala obstructed by a military checkpoint is to be the only means of entering or exiting the village.9
One of the harshest impacts of the Wall is that al-Walajah will be completely cut off from Bethlehem which became the village’s civic centre after it was cut off from Jerusalem following the Nakba and today is the source of essential services such as education, health, water, electricity and more. The Separation Wall will turn the village into a ghetto, separating the population from their agricultural land, limiting its natural growth, and preventing residents from maintaining their basic human rights to dignity and freedom of movement. The construction of the Wall also means the bulldozing of ancient olive trees and the further destruction of al-Walajah’s green and open areas.
In 2013, the Annexation Wall around al-Walajah village annexed the house of the Hajajlah family on the other side of the wall, separating them from the rest of the village. The house of the Hajajlah family is located at the eastern entrance of al-Walajah village, at the end of Karmizan St., which has been closed by a gate since the 7th of May, 2013. This family's home is to be connected to the village only by a tunnel and will be completely surrounded by a fence and a metal gate, to which the family has been given a key. Visitors are forbidden to visit except during certain hours and only with a permit, and all cars are forbidden except for those of the family. If the family were to disobey these instruction, they would be threatened with the loss of their key for the gate and be further submitted to the control of the IOF.
Denial of Basic Services
Even though a big part of al-Walajah lies within the boundaries of the Jerusalem occupation municipality, bizarrely the municipality did not assign its residents residency status and does not fulfill its duty of providing basic services to the village such as healthcare and education. Instead, the military’s “civil administration” demolishes buildings under the pretext that they were illegally built. Israel refuses to grant al-Walajah’s residents construction permits deeming all of their houses “illegal.” Prior to 1948, al-Walajah had an elementary school that taught English, rare for such a small village. However, following the Nakba the only available school is an UNRWA-run school with low standards. To receive education and healthcare, al-Walajah residents must travel to Bethlehem. The completion of the Annexation Wall would make their lives even more difficult as the village is to be cut off from Bethlehem.