Beside house demolitions, they have now blocked the main and only road
crossing the village, and dug several ditches along it. They have also
started confiscating cars belonging to the residents.
One of the first vehicles to be confiscated was the bread truck. So no
bread deliveries to the village. And one of the two only buses serving
the residents in and out of the village and the children who go to
school outside the village. By the way, the residents have requested
permission to build a school inside the village, but did not receive it,
Then 4 cars were confiscated, all inside the village. The claim was that
their license was Palestinian, and this is Jerusalem municipal area, so
they are illegal aliens and hence, their driving illegal. On the day we
visited the village, the second bus was confiscated, and the children
studying in Beit Jalla and Bethlehem had to walk at least half an hour
out of the village to catch a bus.
In order to understand how this could happen, or what is mobilized in
order to perpetrate this crime “legally”, I suggest reading the entire
article by Myron Rapoport in Haaretz Friday magazine (in Hebrew only).
I am adding three sections of the article that touch upon al-Walaje, not
in their original order.
Take al-Walaje, for example. This village, southwest of Jerusalem, south
of the railway tracks, is half inside the Jerusalem municipal area, half
in the Westbank. For many years, says lawyer Etan Peleg, no one noticed
that a part of the village belongs to Jerusalem. The residents received
services from Bethlehem, and the Jerusalem municipality did not offer
them any services whatsoever. Maps of 1967 do not show the village at
all, so its residents have always been registered in Bethlehem.
In the 80’s the authorities “discovered” that half of al-Walaje, about 80
houses, is inside Jerusalem. But the residents remained holding Westbank
IDs. lately they have been suffering the consequences of their
Kafkaesque status – people whose houses are inside Israel but have no
Israeli residency. The Border Patrol visits once in a while, and has
occasionally arrested people in their own homes as illegal aliens. Even
the school bus has been confiscated for having transported “illegal
aliens”, in other words, al-Walaje children, to their school in Beit
The Separation Wall is planned to pass by the village houses: the
“Israeli” part will remain on the Palestinian side of the Wall, which
does not keep the Ministry of the Interior from threatening to demolish
houses there on grounds of having been constructed without an Israeli
permit (on Monday last, 4 such houses were demolished). The land will
remain on the Israeli side. Lawyer Peleg met with Colonel (res.) Dani
Tirza, in charge of the Wall in the Ministry of Defense. “How will they
reach their lands?” asked Peleg. “They won’t”, Peleg quotes Tirza.
“These are not their lands, they are absentee property”. “This is the
law of robbed property” answered Peleg, a former employee of the
At al-Walaje people claim that 10,000 dunam will remain across the Wall,
between the village and the Biblical Zoo and Cremisan. Someone spotted
that land. The architects firm Reches-Eshkol plans to build a huge
project of 13,000 apartments over about 3000 dunam, that will “wrap”
al-Walaje to the north and west. Claude Rosenkovitch, preparing the
master-plan for al-Walaje, says that the Ministry has informed him that
the plan for this housing project is coordinated with the Ministry of
Housing. Who owns the land? Jewish realtors claim they purchased the
land. Lawyer Peleg and the people of al-Walaje have no doubts about this:
at least part of the land of this new neighborhood will be al-Walaje’s
The Absentee Property Law was enacted in 1950 in an attempt to legalize
Israel’s control over Palestinian land in what became Israel. The Law
gives the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property the “right” to seize,
administer and control land owned by persons defined as “absentee”.
“Absentee” is defined as any Palestinian who, between 29 November 1947
and 18 May 1948, fled those parts of Palestine that became Israel (i.e.
Palestinian refugees). The Palestinian lands seized under the Law
following 1948 were eventually transferred from the Custodian to the
Israeli Development Authority or the Jewish National Fund and made
available for exclusive Jewish-only settlement. In other words, the Law
“legalized” the confiscation of Palestinian property in what is now
Israel, and turned that land to Jewish-only use, with little or no
compensation paid to the original Palestinian landowners.
Israel’s enforcement of the Law to Occupied East Jerusalem will now
allow Israel to declare “abandoned” any Palestinian property in East
Jerusalem whose owners reside in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or in any
Arab country, thereby paving the way for its confiscation and
development for exclusive Israeli use with no compensation paid to its
The enforcement of the Absentee Property Law is also in clear breach of
the Road Map which states that the Government of Israel will not
confiscate the property and houses of Palestinians.
Occupied East Jerusalem and the Absentee Property Law:
After its occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 Israel unilaterally
expanded the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem from six square
kilometers to 70 square kilometers and extended the application of
Israeli law into the newly expanded “municipal Jerusalem” area. The
extension of Israeli law to East Jerusalem, along with the delineation
of the expanded borders, were both declared illegal by UN Security
Council Resolution 465.
Although the application of Israeli law to East Jerusalem in 1967 meant
that the provisions of the Absentee Property Law were now in effect, the
Israeli government from 1967 to 2004 continued to allow Palestinians
residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to use and transfer ownership
of their East Jerusalem property, as they had continued to do prior to
1967. However, the Israeli government prohibited West Bank landowners
from registering their land that fell within Israeli-defined municipal
Jerusalem in the Israeli Land Registry (tabu). As a result, the land was
left in a legal vacuum.
Effects of the Application of Israel’s Absentee Property Law to East
Confiscation of Thousands of Acres of Palestinian Land
The decision to now enforce the application of the Absentee Property Law
comes, according to many analysts, as a result of the Wall constructed
in Occupied Palestinian Territory. With the enforcement of the Absentee
Property Law, Israel is now able to confiscate land situated west of the
Wall by Palestinian West Bank residents with no compensation paid to its
Abu Daud tells us that yesterday 11 houses were demolished, including 6
chicken coops. Why the coops? Because with the present conditions of
unemployment and the forbidden entry into Israel, livestock is a major
source of income or at least helps sustain the family. Milk, cheese,
meat… That is why they’re being demolished. Why, would they demolish
anything not vitally essential for life? They demolish whatever is
really needed. To make life impossible. Where will we go, asks Abu Daud.
Nowhere. The Jews don’t understand this.
We are at the tip of the village. The end of the main road, a narrow
track, which the Army has taken trouble to destroy and fill with
potholes, with a pile of boulders at its end. The blockade at the
entrance to the village was raised a long time ago. Big boulders on the
road and a ditch. To make sure. On both sides. Only pedestrians can pass
there, of course. But yesterday the “authorities” arrived, and
reinforced the boulders with more stones and pebbles, so that even
passing between the boulders becomes difficult or even impossible. A
very elderly man arrives, wearing a keffiye and bearing a stick. He
stops. Obviously he feels he won’t be able to cross. He sits down on the
pile. Stands back up. At first he doesn’t manage, eventually he does.
He’s crossed. Walking slowly, he proceeds up the hill.
The municipality has paved another road in the hillside, next to the
blocked road, meant only for the municipality’s vehicles with the
tractors when they come to confiscate and demolish, and for the Border
Patrol with its various tasks of making life miserable for the
residents, confiscating, threatening, abusing. A Jews-only route, next
to the blocked Palestinian track.
It all started in ’87, Abu Daud thinks out loud. Then officials came for
the first time, from the Ministry of the Interior, and suddenly told us
that our building licenses were invalid, that the houses retroactively
belonged to Jerusalem since 1965. That this was Jerusalem. 100 houses.
Prior to 1967 no building permits were required. Since ’75 everything
had to be coordinated with the military government. I received my permit
at Beit El. But in ’87 we were still told that whatever was already
built is built. Approved. Since then until yesterday, perhaps 16 houses
have been demolished. Now another 11.
In Beit Sahour similar actions are being carried out. They were told
their houses have no permits. They went and brought photos of their
houses from the Jordanian jurisdiction period. They were told, okay. The
house is originally from here, but not yourselves. You came later. So
the houses is not your own property. Threats were made: this is Israeli
territory, you are not allowed here for you are belong to the
Territories. This is Israel? we asked. We’re here since before ’67. No,
we were told. You came later.
But in April we were told that even that which held before is no longer
valid. They wanted us to sign that this is Israeli territory and that we
are forbidden to be here, for we are from the Territories.
Abu Daud says they didn’t want to sign. So 12 men were arrested and
taken to Salem for a 21-day detention period. Again they were told, this
is Jerusalem and you are from the Territories. Mustn’t be here.
They say this is Jerusalem territory. The truth is they want territory
After the detention, the computer was reprogrammed, so everyone who had
a magnetic card was automatically considered “forbidden entry”. So 5-6
months now, no magnetic card, no work.
We appealed to a lawyer, Etan Peleg, and were taken in for detention
again, to CP 300. Interrogations. We appealed to the High Court of
Justice. The High Court required all the names of the house owners in
the area, and are looking into this now. Also our magnetic cards were
returned. But now we are waiting for the invitations from Jewish
contractors. To be sent to the DCO. Which will consider… The familiar
story. And then… maybe, and probably not…
But now, they’ve started confiscating cars and buses. They took the
vehicles for 25 days, they say. Then we should come to the CP to get
them. We don’t know if that’ll cost money or not. They also warned us.
You take care, he added, worried. He says there’s a guy in al-Walaje who
somehow got a Jerusalem ID. Apparently according to the valid illegal
law it is supposed to be in order. A real Jerusalemite. But he isn’t.
His car was confiscated because he gives rides to people from the
Territories. His neighbor, the teacher down the street. His family. He
looks with concern at Tami’s car. There’s a guy here who was caught with
his car inside the village, and it was confiscated. He works in
something that involves driving in the village from house to house. So
instead he’s taken a donkey. With it he goes from house to house. He was
caught and told that next time they’ll confiscated his donkey.
We stick to our houses, he says. We don’t care about the Jerusalem ID,
or the Territories. Just the house.
They point to a house in the valley. This one, for example. He was taken
to the CP. Sat in the cold for 6 hours, because this is Israeli
territory, he was told. It’s his house. Where should he go? They want to
clean this area of Arabs. The law should be serving the public, but here
the law serves the mafias.
The is a sign in Jerusalem saying “Keep Jerusalem clean”. He hesitates
for a moment, will he reveal his thoughts to us? He decides to do it: “I
think they mean clean of Arabs. Just for Jews.”
On our way back from the blockade at the end of the village, we pass
again by the pile of rubble at the side of the road, that was one of the
houses demolished the previous day.
An elderly man, a young woman and two babies are seen pacing back and
forth, bent, strange, from nowhere to nowhere. They sit down on the
rubble, get up again, climb the hill, come down. The baby cries,
forgotten down the hill. Holding on to an iron rod sticking out among
the fragments of concrete. His crying continues, endless. The mother
comes down, mumbles, climbs up again. Their movement detached, lost.
Again and again from nowhere to nowhere. it’s freezing outside. It’s
their home. Demolished. A one-room house, which was home to 5 persons.
Their former home was demolished exactly a year ago. They were told that
perhaps UNWRA will give them a tent. The baby has no shoes. His chubby,
healthy feet are wrapped in a pair of red socks and only illuminate the
somber sin that shrieks out in this beautiful valley together with the
Muezzin who has starting calling for prayer, almost like a film set…
Tamar Goldschmidt and Aya Kaniuk. Tuesday, 18 January 2005.
Translated by Tal Haran