Friday, April 07, 2006
An Urgent Appeal from the Al-Walaja Popular Committee Against House Demolitions
posted by: har homa at 11:42 PM
Before 1948 Al-Walaja was the largest village in the southwestern Jerusalem region.
During the war, Israel captured the part of the village north of the train tracks, expelled the villagers from their homes and confiscated 65% of their village lands. The refugees from Al-Walaja built houses on the village lands that remained in the West Bank, after the war, creating what is known as new Al-Walaja. After occupying the West Bank in 1967, the Israelis expanded the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and annexed the city to Israel. This created a new division of Al-Walaja, because the northern neighborhood of Al-Walaja – Ein-Jweisa – was included in the expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. However, we, the residents of Ein-Jweisa, did not know that our lands had been annexed and that we should have been provided with Jerusalem IDs. From 1967 until 1985, all of Al-Walaja, including Ein-Jweisa, was ruled by the Israeli Military Authority that governed the West Bank. During this time, we received no services from either the Military Government or the Jerusalem Municipality.

In 1985, the Jerusalem Municipal Court issued orders to demolish two houses in Ein-Jweisa, because they had been built without the proper permits from the Municipality. Through these orders, we learned that our land had been annexed to the City of Jerusalem and that our presence in our homes and on our land was considered illegal by Israel. We formed a Residents' Committee to defend our lands, organized demonstrations, hired a lawyer and appealed for the cancellation of the demolition orders and reversal of the decision to include Ein-Jweisa in the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. In the early 1990s, it became clear that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli District Committee for Building and Planning had decided that they wanted neither people nor houses on the land of Ein-Jweisa. They increased the pressure on us to leave by issuing more and more demolition orders. Since the first two home demolitions in 1985, the Israelis have demolished an additional 27 houses, and 7 animal sheds in Ein-Jweisa (as of 31/03/2006). This has left more than 100 people homeless. Most of these people have since left the village, because the Israeli authorities disallowed people from rebuilding. These people have thus been made refugees for the second time. Since 1990, the Israelis have issued demolition orders for another 55 houses. These orders demand not only the demolition of the house, but also an exorbitant monthly fine, up to 1,000 Shekels ($217 USD) per square meter, in the case of one family.

In 2004, the Israelis once again increased the pressure on us by beginning a campaign of arrests and claiming that we are present on Israeli land without permits. After 22 residents were arrested, convicted, imprisoned, and pressured to leave their lands and sign a paper acknowledging that they were illegally present in Israel, we initiated a case against the State of Israel that reached the Israeli High Court. The High Court declared that the security forces must cease their campaign of arrests and that the residents of Ein-Jweisa should provide proof of our presence on the land in 1967, and therefore, the right to stay on our land. Despite this order, the arrests have continued and another 84 residents have been arrested.

The Israeli authorities also stopped issuing magnetic ID cards to the residents of Ein-Jweisa, the possession of which is necessary to apply for permission to work in Israel. They arrested all the drivers and seized the 2 buses which connect the village to Bethlehem, in addition to 5 private vehicles. The justification for the arrests and seizures was that the vehicles were registered in Palestine, not Israel. Because Ein-Jweisa was being called 'official Israeli territory', by the Israeli government, the presence of the vehicles was illegal. The vehicles were impounded for one month.
To have them returned, the bus drivers had to pay a combined fine of 5,000 Shekels ($1,085 USD) and owners of the cars each had to pay a fine of 1,500 Shekels ($326 USD). The Israeli Traffic Police began issuing tickets with fines ranging from 250 – 1,500 Shekels each ($54 - $326 USD), for actions which are permissible in Palestinian territory, but which are illegal under Israeli law. The issuing of tickets was clearly understood as a method of harassment to isolate Al-Walaja and its residents.

The Israeli military further isolated Al-Walaja by closing the main road to Beit Jala, and Bethlehem, through the Cremisan monastery and winery in 2003. Money was given by the Italian government to resurface the road. One month after the project was completed the Israeli military destroyed the road with a bulldozer to force all transit to and from Bethlehem to take a longer route through the DCO checkpoint.

In response to the increased pressure from the Israelis, the residents of Ein-Jweisa are fighting back. We have hired an urban planner to design a master plan for the area, which is essential in order to acquire building permits. At the same time we have hired a lawyer to collect the necessary documentation to prove that we were present in Ein-Jweisa before 1967.

Israel is threatening to apply the Absentee Property Law and to confiscate all the land of Ein-Jweisa, saying that the residents are not legally present here. Now, in addition to the question of house demolitions, the residents are facing pressure to apply for Jerusalem IDs, to enable us to stay on our land. We feel, however, that receiving Jerusalem IDs would recognize the Israeli annexation of Ein-Jweisa.

Military orders were issued stating that the Wall would pass through Al-Walaja cutting the village in two and physically forcing the annexation of Ein-Jweisa to Israel. We fought the order in court and managed to stop the division of the village, families and neighbors. This ruling was given by Israeli courts in 2003. Now we do not know what the Israeli authorities plan to do; no recent statements or orders have been issued. The case of Al-Walaja is a problem because Israel does not want to take all of Al-Walaja into Israel and give all its residents Jerusalem IDs; however, they do not want to give the entire village, including Ein-Jweisa to Palestinian control.

The elementary school in Al-Walaja currently serves over 300 children. The existing facilities are insufficient for the number of students. UNRWA will build a new school for Al-Walaja if we can acquire building permits from the Israeli Authority. The residents of Al-Walaja have applied and tried on several occasions to obtain a permit, but have always been denied. Because of the need of the students we have decided that it is best to build, at our own cost, even though the school may be demolished. Two months ago we began constructing the school. It will cost $800,000 dollars, which we are still saving for and collecting through donations.

In 2006 there is increased pressure on Ein-Jweisa. Five houses have already been demolished (as of 31/3/2006). The 18 month time limit to gain retroactive permits for a house will expire on 12 June, 2006 for 24 homes. Based on the history of demolition orders on Palestinian homes, we have no expectation that we will be able to get permits for any of the homes. Once the orders are executed on these 24 homes 190 people will be made homeless. We do not want to be refugees for a second time. We see these actions by the Israeli government as an attempt to silently transfer us from our land. We appeal to the international community, UNRWA and all international NGOs and people to take responsibility and to pressure the Israeli government to stop these actions which are illegal according to the International Court of Justice and the Geneva Accords. Help us defend our rights and homes.

Until now, none of our efforts have achieved the desired result. While we continue our struggle to secure our right to remain on our lands and to live in our houses, we are calling for solidarity and support from the international community. We will remain steadfast and will continue struggling to maintain our presence on the land. However, we also need support from the international community by:
Visiting Ein-Jweisa, understanding our struggle and conveying our situation to the people and governments of the world.
Pressuring Israel to stop demolishing houses and transferring residents out of Ein-Jweisa.
Building an international media campaign to support our struggles.
Supporting our efforts financially so that we can continue employing a lawyer and an urban planner. The people of Ein-Jweisa have become very poor after years of legal battles and the effects of the Israeli closures. We need financial support in order to make sure that our efforts and struggle to remain in our homes and on our land continue and succeed.

Thank you very much for your support and we look forward to working with you as we continue our struggle.

Sincerely,

The Popular Committee Against House Demolitions,
Ein-Jweisa, Al-Walaja


Write an op/ed piece!

Talking Points:

The residents of Al-Walaja are refugees from 1948, when they were expelled from their lands. The demolition of their current homes is making them refugees for a second time.

House Demolitions of 2006
5 homes have been destroyed in Al-Walaja already this year, making 35 people homeless (to 07/04/2006)
24 more homes are slated for destruction after 12th June, making a further 190 people homeless.

International legality

The demolitions are being justified under the pretext that Israel annexed the Ein-Jweisa neighborhood of Al-Walaja into Israel in 1967, and thus claims the homes are illegal structures within Israel.
According to the Geneva Convention, regarding laws during military occupation, the destruction of civilian homes if forbidden under military occupation.
The acquisition of territory by force, such as the Ein-Jweisa neighborhood of Al-Walaja, is illegal, as per the Geneva Convention of 1949
United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, of November 22nd 1967, calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict "

Needed International Pressure

Our call is for the international community to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law, and respect the rights of the residents of Al-Walaja.


(For personal research – Al Walaja is also sometimes spelled as Al Walaje.)


Write you governmental representative! Start a letter writing campaign!!

Dear (your representative's name here),

I am deeply concerned after reading a letter from the Popular Committee Against House Demolitions in Ein-Jweisa, Al-Walaja, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The letter highlighted that the Israeli government is violating international law in the village of Al-Walaja.

In addition to the numerous house demolitions which have taken place over the past two decades in the Occupied Palestinian Territories at the hands of the Israeli government, five homes have already been destroyed in Al-Walaja this year, making 35 people homeless (to 07/04/2006).
24 more homes are slated for destruction after 12th June, making a further 190 people homeless. The residents of Al-Walaja, after their expulsion from their village in the 1948 war, will now become refugees for the second time.

According to Article 53 of the fourth Geneva Convention, regarding laws during military occupation, the destruction of civilian homes if forbidden under military occupation.
The demolitions are being justified under the pretext that Israel annexed the Ein-Jweisa neighborhood of Al-Walaja into Israel in 1967, and thus claims the homes are illegal structures within Israel. The acquisition of territory by force, however, such as the Ein-Jweisa neighborhood of Al-Walaja, is illegal, as per the Geneva Convention of 1949. More specifically, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22nd 1967, calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict"

The call of the villagers is for the international community to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law, and respect the rights of the residents of Al-Walaja.

As my elected representative, I urge you to utilize your power and call for the halt of the home demolitions. This issue demands immediate action, as the 24 homes can be demolished anytime after June 12th.

I anticipate your response on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

(Your Name)