The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
Two days ago (14 September), the Israel Civil Administration’s (ICA) Higher Planning Council announced it would convene the discussion of objections for the Har Gilo West settlement plan on November 7, 2022. The scheduling of the discussion came just a week following the conclusion of the 60-day period allotted for the submission of objections. On July 8, the plan was formally deposited for public review. The pace at which the plan is advancing clearly indicates the Israeli authorities’ intent to accelerate the approval process.
Beyond its destructive impact on the Palestinian village of al-Walaja, the plan’s ramifications on the prospects of any viable political agreement should be seen on par with Israeli construction in E1. Both plans contribute to the Israeli government’s acceleration of de-facto annexation of the West Bank, in particularly the Greater Jerusalem area, while carrying dire ramifications on Palestinian human rights. The advancement of Har Gilo West joins a spate of cumulative Israeli measures taking place along the southern flank of East Jerusalem and its surroundings in a bid to consolidate Israeli control and increase territorial contiguity with the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. This is exemplified by the major settlement advancements in the vicinity and mass home demolitions in al-Walaja juxtaposed with the state’s neglect in initiating a zoning plan for the village’s area located within the Jerusalem municipal borders.
Bimkom & Ir Amim Alongside al-Walajah Residents file Joint Objection
Among the objections submitted, Bimkom and Ir Amim together with 13 al-Walaja residents filed an objection against the Har Gilo West plan (TPS 401-4-1), detailing its devastating impact on the community and its surroundings. The current plan calls for the construction of 560 housing units on 205 dunams of al-Walaja land in Area C situated on the western slopes of the built-up section of the village along the perimeter of the al-Walaja bypass road. This plan is the first stage of a much larger project totaling a number of 1004 housing units on an area of 940 dunams, which will extend all the way to the Jerusalem municipal boundary. While the Israeli authorities present the plan as an extension of the existing Har Gilo settlement, it will in fact constitute an entirely new settlement. It will be completely detached from Har Gilo with part of al-Walaja's built-up area and the Separation Barrier lying between the two settlements.
Walling Off al-Walaja with the Separation Barrier
As cited in the joint objection, al-Walaja is today surrounded by the Separation Barrier from three directions. Its route was drawn to border the built-up area of the village and sever it from its extensive agricultural lands. Although the original plan was designed to entirely encircle al-Walaja with the Separation Barrier by 360 degrees, the state ultimately retreated from this idea following a court petition filed by village residents. Al-Walaja’s western side was therefore left open.
However, construction of the new settlement, which is slated for the western edge of al-Walaja, will ultimately block the remaining open side of the village. According to the ICA, a 7 to 12-meter-high concrete barrier will likewise be constructed between Har Gilo West and the built-up area of al-Walaja for "security reasons.” Due to the proximity of the two areas, construction of the barrier will inevitably damage al-Walaja’s agricultural lands and in some cases may lead to the demolition of village homes. Al-Walaja will be completely walled-off with the barrier built just meters away from many of its homes. The objection details how the establishment of Har Gilo West will deplete al-Walaja’s remaining land reserves in Area C, preventing the village’s further expansion, while dispossessing community residents of their private land. Hedging in al-Walaja with settlements and the barrier will likewise jeopardize the community’s freedom of movement, disconnecting it from the surrounding Palestinian environs.
Discrepancies in the State's Position on Urban Planning for the Area
Moreover, the joint objection underscores the absurd contradictions and inconsistencies with the planning authorities’ conclusions and decisions concerning the respective area. The advancement of the new settlement stands in stark contrast to the longstanding neglect of urban planning for al-Walajah. While a plan for the southern part of the village in Area C has recently been advanced, the approval process appears stuck once again. In the northern portion of al-Walaja, which was annexed by Israel in 1967 and since then, effectively part of the Jerusalem municipality (Ein Juweiza), the state has consistently refused to promote a zoning plan for this area, partly due to alleged environmental considerations. The advancement of a new settlement around the same area is in complete contradiction to these claims. Indeed, the land designated for Har Gilo West is actually part of the buffer zone of Battir, an UNESCO World Heritage site due to its ancient agricultural terraces, which should preclude the establishment of a new settlement. The Israeli government’s abdication of responsibility in promoting a zoning plan for Ein Juweiza has placed this community under threat of widespread demolition for years. Since 2016, over half the homes in the Jerusalem portion of the village have received demolition orders, while some 40 of them have been carried out, including one last week.
As result of local and international pressure, the state agreed during a Supreme Court hearing in March 2022 to extend a demolition freeze on 38 homes to allow the residents of Ein Juweize to initiate a zoning plan on their own. The difficult and costly process is underway despite the fact the Israeli authorities are not willing to fulfill their responsibility to promote the plan themselves. Meanwhile, new demolition orders are still being issued in this part of the village, and demolitions of homes not protected by the freeze continue to be carried out. By November 1, 2022, Ein Juweize residents are expected to report to the Supreme Court on the planning progress. It is therefore vital that the State uphold its position in favor of advancement of a plan for Ein Juweiza.