Al-Walajah, a symbol of Israeli ethnic cleansing

Palestinians retrieve their possessions after the Israeli army demolished their home in the West Bank village of al-Walajah, near Bethlehem, December 2006. (Fadi Tanas/MaanImages)

While American officials continue to claim that the mission of US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is by no means over, and that he will still pursue his efforts to convince the Israeli government to agree to some sort of settlement freeze, Israeli plans for further colonization of Palestinian land continue undisturbed. The latest Israeli plans call for the destruction of the West Bank village of al-Walajah for the second time in six decades.

According to Israeli press reports, Israel is planning a massive new settlement in the vicinity of Jerusalem, on land owned by Palestinians of al-Walajah. The project, expected to be approved by the Israeli ministry of the Interior, could become the single most populous settlement built in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967 according to the Israeli daily Maariv. The project plans prepared by the ministry of the Interior and the Jerusalem municipality call for 14,000 housing units for 40,000 settlers on 3,000 dunums of land which would require the demolition of al-Walajah residents’ homes, according to the paper.

The original village of al-Walajah was located on the opposite side of its current location, on a mountain slope facing east, just about six kilometers south of Jerusalem. It was very close to Battir, the village in which I was born and brought up. The two villages were separated by a valley, with Battir on the opposite slope from al-Walajah, though a little further south and were very closely linked.

The railway from Jerusalem to the Palestinian coastal city of Jaffa ran right through that valley, which also marks the 1949 armistice line following the end of the 1948 war (also known as the “Green Line.”)

During October 1948, Zionist forces attacked and occupied al-Walajah. Its roughly 1,800 inhabitants were scattered in every direction, sharing the fate of Palestinians from hundreds of other towns and villages ethnically cleansed in the same period.

I have strong memories of visiting al-Walajah as a young child, which was walking distance from my village. Often when I was dispatched by one of my parents to purchase something for the house from the only shop in our village, I was advised to try the shop in al-Walajah if the item was not to be found in Battir.

There was active social interaction and intermarriage between the small, tight-knit populations of al-Walajah and Battir. There were daily exchanges of visits and sharing of most kinds of public events. That also applied to many other villages which were within walking distance from Battir such as Beit Safafa, al-Malhah, al-Jawrah, Ain Karem, al-Qabou and Sataf; all were occupied and ethnically cleansed in that first war.

That kind of cozy relationship amongst the small populations of Palestinian villages was all but destroyed by the 1948 war. When the inhabitants of Battir returned home after several months of forced refuge elsewhere when the village during the war came under direct fire, al-Walajah, which used to bustle with life was now silent and deserted. The demarcation line delineated following the 1949 armistice had left al-Walajah just west of the line, on the Israeli side. Battir was barely saved with the barbed wire running through the village cutting most of the village agricultural land, some houses and the boys school. Later, we watched as the Israeli army started to demolish al-Walajah, house by house. We would see a cloud of smoke and dust shoot up into the air over a house, followed by the sound of an explosion, leaving nothing but a heap of rubble. Al-Walajah was completely destroyed before Israel built the settlement of Aminadav and a park where Israelis picnic on its lands.

Apparently the people of al-Walajah owned land across the hills to the east, well within the West Bank, and that is where they decided to settle temporarily for the awaited hope of justice and redemption from the United Nations, which like many Palestinians, they still thought would come.

But time passed and justice never visited them, so they started to build homes and created a new al-Walajah. This new town is the one now threatened with ethnic cleansing. Of course the standard Israeli excuse for destroying Palestinians homes is that they were built “without permission.”

The irony is that the Israelis have all along permitted themselves to massacre, ethnically cleanse, occupy, confiscate, destroy and commit every sort of crime against their Palestinian victims while Palestinians are severely punished for building on their land in their country. Al-Walajah in 1948 and now, bears witness to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land.

Israel’s brazen acceleration of settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land is unquestionably a result of international, and particularly American, policy failures and the refusal to hold Israel accountable under international law.

While we have constantly witnessed the so-called “international community” relentlessly tracking down alleged violations and violators in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Kenya, Burma and among Palestinians not affiliated with US-backed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, Israel is offered unconditional impunity.

It doesn’t stop there; Israel is not only exempt from punishment but routinely rewarded for its crimes. After six months of defiant rejection of American requests to stop settlement construction, the Americans were the ones who finally dropped the demand and put pressure instead on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to drop its conditions to restart “negotiations.”

Last month’s New York summit of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, hosted by US President Barack Obama, was Netanyahu’s first great diplomatic victory. Following the growing public outrage at the PA’s shelving of the Goldstone report into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, it emerged (according to the BBC Arabic Service on 3 October) that Abbas agreed in New York to drop the Palestinian effort to have the report forwarded to the Security Council for further action. This is a second major Israeli victory. Netanyahu, it should be recalled, had dwelled heavily on the Goldstone report in his address to the UN General Assembly rejecting the report as a serious obstacle to peace. Abbas on his part ignored any mere mention of the report in his own UN speech. This indicates that Abbas had already acquiesced to public and private American and Israeli demands to shelve the Goldstone report.

Israel’s third victory is the revelation that the Obama administration, like all its predecessors, has agreed to help Israel continue to hide its nuclear weapons arsenal that threatens the region and all of humanity, while the US and its allies escalate their pressure on Iran in response to Israeli incitement.

All of these events are directly linked to what happens to people in al-Walajah — and indeed all over Palestine from Galilee to Gaza — who from 1948 until now, continue steadfastly and stubbornly to defend their rights and existence even as they still hope for international justice that has yet to come.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.