WASHINGTON - Fifty House Democrats urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to prevent Israel from moving forward with the planned displacement of Palestinian families and the demolition of their homes in the West Bank village of Walaja.
"The destruction and displacement of this community would run counter to the values shared by the U.S. and Israel, while further undermining long-term Israeli security, Palestinian dignity, and prospects for peace," the lawmakers — led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, David Price, Jamie Raskin, John Yarmuth and Mark Pocan — wrote concerning the pending eviction of 38 Palestinian families, totaling approximately 300 people.
Citing the historically constructive U.S. role in facilitating dialogue and reconciliation, they urged the Biden administration to work with Israel to "immediately halt demolitions in al-Walaja and ensure that the planning authorities are working with the Palestinian residents to advance an equitable development plan that will formally authorize existing homes, provide for adequate municipal services, and allow for residential and other necessary development of the village."
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The northern half of Walaja, a Palestinian agricultural village, is located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but residents do not receive services from the municipality or from the State of Israel. Instead, they rely on the Palestinian Authority for services ranging from education to trash collection. The village has not had a master plan since the 1967 de facto annexation of East Jerusalem, preventing residents from being able to build new homes legally. Out of necessity, residents built dozens of homes without permits over the past 54 years.
"It is our understanding that residents have done everything they can to overcome the lack of a master plan – even submitting their own 15 years ago with the assistance of an architect and a nongovernmental organization with expertise in planning," the members of Congress stated. "This plan was rejected in January 2021 by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, claiming the village lands hold 'great scenic and environmental value, with a contiguity of open areas and ancient, extraordinary agrarian cultural values," they noted, decrying this reasoning as "unjust and contradictory."
Israel's Supreme Court is slated to hear Walaja residents' appeal on March 30. "There have already been a number of demolitions in al-Walaja in recent years in areas not protected by court injunction. If residents lose their appeal, there is a very real and proximate prospect that they may lose their homes, their community, and their way of life," the lawmakers added.
The list of names on the letter reflect a wide range of the Democratic Party's shifts in positions on Israel, including progressives such as Reps. Ilhan Omar, Jamaal Bowman, Ayanna Pressley and Betty McCollum as well as party elders such as Reps. Jerry Nadler and Rosa DeLauro.
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Other lawmakers signed onto the letter include: Reps. Don Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, André Carson, Sean Casten, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, Steve Cohen, Gerald Connolly, Peter DeFazio, Mark DeSaulnier, Debbie Dingell, Lloyd Doggett, Anna Eshoo, Jesús “Chuy” García, Raúl Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Jared Huffman, Sara Jacobs, Pramila Jayapal, Hank Johnson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Robin Kelly, Ro Khanna, Daniel Kildee, Barbara Lee, Andy Levin, Zoe Lofgren, Alan Lowenthal, Betty McCollum, James McGovern, Marie Newman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bobby Rush, Jackie Speier, Melanie Stansbury, Eric Swalwell, Mark Takano, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Peter Welch and Jennifer Wexton.