The Israeli government has reportedly informed the Palestinian residents of al-Walaja village, located in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, just on the border of Israelâ€™s Jerusalem municipality, that they are to be cut off from a large portion of their lands due to the relocation of a checkpoint in the area.
Israeli news daily Haaretz reported that an Israeli Jerusalem district planning committee announced that the Ein Yael checkpoint between Jerusalem and the illegal Har Gilo settlement — which was built on al-Walajaâ€™s lands — would move deeper into Palestinian area, where it will become part of the â€śJerusalem metropolitan park.â€ť
Inside the land that is to be annexed, is the Ain al-Haniya spring, the second-largest spring in the occupied West Bank according to Haaretz.
The spring is also one of the main water sources for the residentsâ€™ livestock to bathe and drink from, and also serves as a recreational spring for the people of the surrounding areas, who flock to the spring to picnic and swim.
According to Haaretz, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Jerusalem Development Authority have already started renovation work at the spring and the surrounding areas, and plan on surrounding the spring with a fence, building a visitors center and a restaurant and turning it into one of the entrances to Jerusalemâ€™s metropolitan park — a park where the residents of al-Walaja and Bethlehem would not be able to access without special permits.
Haaretz further reported, according to Ma’an, that the resident of al-Walaja received letters telling them that the checkpoint will be moved closer to their village, some two and a half kilometers deeper into Palestinian territory from where it is currently located.
The villagers were reportedly given 15 days to appeal the decision.
Once the checkpoint is relocated, Palestinians without Jerusalem resident papers or Israeli-issued visitor permits will not be allowed to pass through it and will be prevented from accessing the spring, fields, and farming terraces to which they have tended to for generations.
â€śIronically, the well-groomed, carefully tended terraces that al-Walajaâ€™s residents have nurtured over the years were one of the reasons given by the Israeli authorities for setting up a park in the area,â€ť Haaretz said.
Haaretz quoted Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Israeli NGO Ir Amim as saying that â€śIsraelis will stroll among the beautiful terraces, tended to and fostered by al-Walaja residents, with the land owners locked behind a barbed wire fence a few dozen meters away, unable to come to the lands that were robbed from them.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s the rightist governmentâ€™s vision: instead of peace and justice, fences and increasingly brutal oppression,â€ť he said.
The village of al-Walaja has long been the target of Israeli land confiscations and mass Israeli demolitions for the purpose of expanding Israelâ€™s illegal settlements and advancing the construction of Israelâ€™s separation wall — deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
At the end of April, Israel resumed construction of the separation wall in the village after a three-year hiatus.
Residents of al-Walaja lost over three-quarters of their lands since the state of Israel was established in 1948, when most of the villageâ€™s residents became refugees.
During Israelâ€™s military takeover of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, 50 percent of al-Walajaâ€™s lands were annexed to the Jerusalem municipality.
Meanwhile, Israelâ€™s separation wall encircles al-Walaja, and swathes of land have been re-appropriated by the Israeli government for the construction and expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo, Har Gilo, and Givat Yael.
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, and continues into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.