Children walking in the West Bank village of Walaja
Children walking in the West Bank village of Walaja, with Jerusalem in the background. Photo by Shiran Granot
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The unfinished separation fence around the West Bank will run between a Palestinian village and a large park proposed for Jerusalem's southern edge - a move that would make it tougher for local Palestinians to reach their agricultural land.

Construction in that area began over the past year, but residents of the village near Jerusalem, Walaja, learned about the implications only recently from Ir Amim, a group that fights for Arab rights in the city. Farmers would have to cross through a gate to reach their land.

The park, if approved, will cover 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres ) and serve as one segment of parkland around Jerusalem's western edge. It will include forests, recreation sites, hiking paths and parking areas.

The Jerusalem Development Authority launched plans for the park several years ago in conjunction with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jewish National Fund. When planning was begun, the park featured unobstructed views, but over the past year, the Defense Ministry has begun building the separation fence in the area, separating the park from Walaja in the West Bank.

Ir Amim says 1,250 dunams were added to the park plan about a year ago. The fence will cut villagers off from agricultural land and the park, which are on the Israeli side of the separation fence, Ir Amim says.

The groups says residents lost access to their land inside Jerusalem when sites were declared national parkland. But the development authority says the entire park is within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries and that the plans do not address land ownership.

They also do not call for the expropriation of privately-owned land, the authority says.

"In any event, there is no intention to expropriate privately-owned land," the authority said in a statement. "Most of the area already serves as a national park, and the expansion is being carried out to protect nature and the landscape."

Walaja residents and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel failed to block construction of the separation fence.

But Ze'ev Hacohen, a planner at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, noted that Walaja residents would still be able to work their land.

He said the village's farmers would be able to cross the fence at a gate, although he acknowledged that the barrier would make access more difficult.