After a three-year hiatus, work has resumed on the separation barrier in the village of al-Walaja, south of Jerusalem. The fence is expected to almost completely surround the village.
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The separation barrier erected around the West Bank has an unfinished section in an area south of Jerusalem, near the villages of al-Walaja and Battir. Over the last few years, several legal and public battles have been waged against erecting the fence there, partly to prevent damaging ancient terraces which are located between the villages and the Refa’im Stream below them. Even though the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the construction of the fence near al-Walaja, no work had been done there in the last three years, possibly due to lack of budget.
However, two days ago workers arrived in the village and resumed building the barrier, which will cut it and neighboring Battir off from Jerusalem. The plans call for surrounding the village on all sides and leaving one opening facing the town of Beit Jala. The barrier will also cut the village off from most of its residents' lands, which lie on the slopes between the village and the Refa'im Stream and cover around 740 acres.
Many of these plots will become part of Jerusalem’s new urban park; residents say the issues are connected. “I’m certain that they want to complete the fence so they can take whatever they want of our land,” says Omar Hajajle, one of the villagers.
The park’s highlight will be the copious al-Hanya Spring, which serves the area’s shepherds for watering their flocks and other villages for bathing and relaxing. The spring will now be on the other side of the barrier. Over the last year the Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority have been conducting a preservation and rehabilitation project around the spring, which will become an entrance point and major attraction in the park.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman plans to move a roadblock into the area so that Israelis will have better access to the spring while Palestinians will be prevented from reaching it. The ministry committed to erecting a gate for farmers and shepherds in the area but villages are very worried. “We’re being closed in from all sides; all our lands remain on the other side of the fence. They promised a gate but so far we don’t see one,” says Hajajle.
“The completion of the fence is proceeding in parallel with the development of the national park, on beautiful agricultural land which the fence will cut off from the village,” says Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the nonprofit organization Ir Amim. “The sorry excuse claiming security considerations cannot hide the robbery and blatant wrongdoing.”