14 February 2005
WALAJA, OVERLOOKING JERUSALEM: No Permits for People, Houses or Land
By Kathy Kamphoefner (Quaker Service, Jerusalem),
Barbara Martens, and Sally Hunsberger (Christian Peacemaker Team, Hebron)
Ahmed Bargouth, fifty-seven years old was born in Old
Walaja village. When he was ten months old his family
fled the village in an-Nakba. Translated
"Catastrophe," an-Nakba is the Arabic name for
Israel's 1948 war. "I don't remember it, of course,
but it's clear in my mind. In our Palestinian
families, a father tells his son, and the son tells
his son," he said. The family went first to Jordan
and then lived in several other West Bank towns.
Finally they resettled in the new village, also named
Walaja, with fellow refugees. They were in sight of
the old village across the Green Line of 1948.
Walaja sits high on a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem.
We asked, "What problems does Walaja have now?"
"Is there any place without problems?" Bargouth
joked. "We have big problems here. This is the land
of Walaja. Gilo [an Israeli settlement] is on the
land of Walaja. People living here in 1948 want to
return to the Old Walaja. We have legal problems with
our land, our houses, and our people. We have a
lawyer, but we have large legal bills."
Everyone inside the village of Walaja depends on the
land for a living. Many Walaja-een used to work in
Jerusalem but it is illegal for them to go there now
although the city is within walking distance of the
village. "If we go, we'll be arrested," said
"We have no IDs," said Abu Nidal At-Trash.
"What do you mean you have no IDs? How can you go
anywhere? How can you
cross any checkpoint?" we asked.
"We can't," At-Trash said. "That's the problem. The
Israeli government even says we are illegal here,
sitting in our own houses. Sometimes they arrest us
The northern section of the village is called Ein
Jewezah. It lies inside the Jerusalem municipal
boundaries drawn by Israel in 1967, while the
remainder of the village is officially in the West
Bank. The village lies next to Har Gilo settlement.
It's main road runs along the settlement's fence. The
village was slated to be completely encircled by the
Separation Wall, but those plans are being redrawn, so
no one knows where the Wall will go.
"What's the problem with your land?" we asked.
"The municipality of Jerusalem said it is illegal for
us to work it."
"Why is it illegal? Do you have deeds to your land?" we asked.
"Yes, we have the deeds..."
"What's the problem with your houses?" we asked.
"Israel is demolishing them for lack of permits. But
they don't give permits. In the 1967 War Israeli
demolished a lot of houses here and in all of
Jerusalem. In 1986, they came and demolished more
houses. In 1992, they came again to demolish houses.
We made a demonstration. We wrote to Rabin. We wrote
to the Knesset. We said we feared the entire village
will be razed. They told is, 'That's your problem.'"
"In the next six years, they demolished another
nineteen houses," Bargouth said.
"But the demolitions have really increased in the last
year and a half," said Ein Jewezah resident Khader
Wa'el. In mid-January, the municipal government
demolished five houses and seven animal shelters (see
Bargouth got out a stack of legal documents and news
clippings related to the village's problems. He held
out a bill for 750 shekels. "This is our fine for one
month," he explained. "The Israeli municipality
brings us such fines every month. It's four hundred
shekels for one hundred cubic meters of your house.
We can't pay it. After 18 months, they told us they
will demolish the house if the fines are not paid."
Bargouth said another ten to twelve families are
receiving similar fines each month.
Bargouth said Israel is planning to demolish another
twenty-five houses in Ein Jewezah, and perhaps another
ten houses on the West Bank side of the village in the
"Why is the Israeli government doing this?" we asked.
"To force us to move."
"They want the land, but they don't want the people.
This is their policy of transfer for us, to move us out," Bargouth said.
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