- Title: WEST BANK: Israeli barrier to separate more Palestinian villagers from their land
- Date: 27th September 2007
- Summary: (MER1) AL-WALAJA VILLAGE, WEST BANK (SEPTEMBER 18, 2007) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF AL-WALAJA VILLAGE AND BULLDOZERS WORKING ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE ISRAELI BARRIER CLOSE OF BULLDOZER
- Embargoed: 12th October 2007 13:00
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVA8A6IW297LCINR0VBRGMRHTTPM
- Story Text: The construction of the Israeli barrier near the village of al-Walaja in the outskirts of Jerusalem will cut off villagers from much of their land and their livelihood.
One segment of the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank will cut off a Palestinian village from much of its land and isolate its residents from surrounding villages and towns.
When the barrier near the village of al-Walaja, on the outskirts of Jerusalem and near Bethlehem, is completed, residents will only be able to leave the village through the Israeli military checkpoint near the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo, and many villagers will be cut off from their sources of livelihood.
Mustafa Rabah, an 83-year-old farmer from al-Walaja, has been separated from his land by the barrier, and has joined hundreds of thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank whom the barrier has cut off from land, sources of livelihood and critical services such as schools, clinics and markets.
"We've been living here since the time of Jordan (when Jordan controlled the West Bank). Then they (Israeli authorities) came and said this is government property, and it is our right to take do whatever we want with it. This is no use, they want to take the land," Rabah said.
He said when Israeli authorities first started constructing the barrier near his house, they built a gate in the barrier and gave Rabah the key. But the key was taken away from him and he can no longer reach his orchards.
"First of all they took the key and then welded the gate shut. But before, we used to pass and pick some fruits. We used to pick the figs. Now it is prohibited," Rabah said.
For al-Walaja's 2,300 residents, the thought of being isolated and cut off from their land is especially bitter because of their history.
The village was built by refugees who fled in 1948 from the war at Israel's creation to settle on land that was then controlled by Jordan. Israel captured the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.
A report issued in July by a United Nations agency said the Israeli barrier will effectively separate Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied territory.
Israeli officials have said the barrier, a mix of wire fencing and concrete walls, helps stop Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israeli cities.
The report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Israel has completed more than half of a planned 720 kilometre (430 mile) barrier started in 2003 on land it captured in a 1967 war.
In 2004, the World Court said construction of the barrier on occupied land was illegal. Israel has ignored the ruling, the report said.
Locals said the section of the barrier near al-Walaja will cut off the areas villagers, who already cannot reach Jerusalem, from Bethlehem.
"All the villages in this area were dependent on Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was a market for our products, for fruits and vegetables and sheep and poultry products. They (Israeli authorities) have cut us off from Jerusalem, and now they want to cut us off from Bethlehem. It is even difficult for us to reach Bethlehem now," Saeed Abu Ali, another farmer from al-Walaja, said.
The barrier will stretch for a length of 4.1 kilometres along al-Walaja and come between the village and 1,600,000 square metres of its land. The villagers will lose over a third of their total land area.
"The lands are mostly pastoral, some pieces of land are planted with olive trees. As I said, there are pieces of land where (Israeli authorities) have cut down the olive trees so that it will not look in the future like it was suitable for planting at one time," explained Saleh Khalifa, head of al-Walaja village council.
"What will be left for this village is, as I said, about 2,000 to 2,500 dunams (2,000,000 to 2,500,000 square metres) of land. About 20, 25, 30 percent of this is farmed land and the rest is barren," Khalifa said.
Al-Walaja villagers had previously lost much of their land when it was confiscated by Israeli authorities for the building of the nearby Har Gilo settlement.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 conflict and declared all of Jerusalem its eternal and united capital in a move not recognised internationally. Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they aspire to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Commenting on other sections of the Israeli barrier, the July U.N.
report said the fences and walls would effectively trap some 50,000 of the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank in a zone between the territory and Israel.
These Palestinians would be unable to access critical services such as schools, clinics and shops in either Israel or the West Bank without special permits, the report said.
It said Israel had tightened procedures to obtain such "visitor" permits, so far granted to only 40 percent of the Palestinian farmers who need them to cultivate land they own on the Israeli side of the barrier.
Israel has opened gates in the barrier to facilitate some movement, but half were open for a shorter time than scheduled, and subsequently 10 towns in the northern West Bank lacked round-the-clock access to emergency services, the report said.
About 80 percent of Israel's barrier is to be built on West Bank land, while the remaining 20 percent will lie in Israel, according to the report.
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