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Israel to demolish 38 Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Walaja

The civil administration is advancing a massive construction plan designated for Jewish settlers [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2021

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The Jerusalem Planning Board rejected a master plan that would have given construction permits to local residents of al-Walaja, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Israel will be allowed to demolish 38 homes in the West Bank village of al-Walaja, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, after the Jerusalem Planning Board rejected a master plan that would have given construction permits to local Palestinian residents.

The Jerusalem Planning Board, an Israeli institution dealing with planning and construction in the district of Jerusalem, cited "environmental concerns" to reject the master plan, while allowing a settlement expansion in the very same area.

The committee ruled that "conserving nature" and "traditional local farming" in the area take precedence over developing al-Walaja.

The board added that the al-Walaja residents' plan lacked basic documents required for approval, and that a plan that would "protect open spaces" and "examine the possibility of preserving some of the existing historic buildings" in al-Walaja could be approved.

In the past, the same board approved a significantly larger building plan for Israeli neighbourhoods in the same area.

Israel does not allow Palestinian construction in most of al-Walaja, which is mainly part of Beit Jala in the Bethlehem district, but also of the Jerusalem district, particularly in the northern half of the village, which was annexed after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank.

Residents do not receive services from the municipality or from the state of Israel, and rely on the Palestinian Authority for services ranging from education to trash collection.

Despite the constant interdictions, locals built dozens of homes out of necessity over the past 54 years without permits.

In four years, 20 houses in al-Walaja were destroyed. Another 38 homes received orders for immediate demolition, and dozens of others built since 1967 are also in danger of being razed.

The plan that got rejected was prepared initially fifteen years ago with the help of late architect Claude Rosenkowitz and the planning NGO Bimkom (Planners for Planning Rights).

The Jerusalem Planning Board accepted to discuss the plan only after residents petitioned the Supreme Court last year.

Not only did the board reject the plan, it also decided to adopt additional limiting restrictions for approving any future plans, such as that a large area in the village be set aside for an urban park, and that residents would only be able to receive a construction permit for structures built before 1967 or attached to them.

"I don't understand. When they build Har Gilo it doesn't affect nature, but only when we build it affects nature?" asked attorney Ibrahim al-Araj, an al-Walaja resident, to Haaretz. "It's blatant racism."

At the same time, the planning board and the civil administration are advancing a massive construction plan designated for Jewish settlers on all the surrounding hills.

The Gilo settlement has expanded to al-Walaja's east, and the enormous Reches Lavan neighborhood is expected to be built to its north, despite the massive environmental damage it is likely to cause.

Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The West Bank and East Jerusalem had previously been occupied by Jordan since the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War.

The situation could change, as the International Criminal Court has ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

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