New Checkpoint to Prevent Al-Walajeh Residents from Accessing Their Land & Spring

In a recent report, we warned that the Jerusalem Municipality was getting set to make life harder for the residents of the embattled village of el-Walajeh. This is now coming to pass: Israel has started building the new Ein Yael checkpoint between Jerusalem and the settlement of Har Gilo, at the southern exit of Jerusalem. The checkpoint will block El-Walajeh’s residents from accessing their lands, and cut them off from the Ein Haniya spring and related water resources (for further details and a map showing the location of the new checkpoint, see this report from Peace Now).

As explained in the excellent report prepared by Peace Now on this issue:

“The Ein Haniya spring, which lies along the Green Line on land belonging to the Palestinian village of al-Walaja in the Nahal Refa’im area, has been used for generations as a source of drinking water, irrigation, sustenance for sheep and crops, and for recreation. The spring is also a tourist attraction for many Israeli travelers from Jerusalem and the surrounding area. For decades, the spring served both Israeli and Palestinian visitors, with no disruptions. In 2010, Israel completed its Separation Barrier adjacent to al-Walaja, separating it from the spring and some 250 acres of their agricultural lands. Despite this, the residents could still go around the barrier and access the area by car or by foot because the existing checkpoint was some 1.5 kilometers beyond the spring.”

The move comes as part of the Municipality’s decision, supported by the government, to designate the area as an Israeli national park. The decision to move the Ein Yael checkpoint is designed, deliberately, to prevent el-Walajeh’s resident from accessing the park (for further background on the national park project, see our previous report here). Following the inauguration of the area as a national park by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Tourism Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), construction works for the relocation of the checkpoint started on February 12, 2018, without a permit being issued and in contravention of a court order requiring the Municipality to suspend all work in order to enable el-Walajeh’s residents to appeal the Municipality’s decision.

Peace Now’s report provides a detailed account of the way the Municipality has acted to fast-track the construction of the checkpoint in total disregard of the court’s decision, with an impressive determination to create facts on the ground that would guarantee the opening of the area for Israeli only:

“On 15 February 2018, the Honorable Judge Oded Shaham issued an injunction in the Jerusalem District Court prohibiting the municipality from carrying out any work on the ground. In spite of this injunction, the municipality violated the court order by continuing to work, with the direct involvement of the city’s director general. The police, who were called to stop the work, told the activists who called them that the station commander had given permission for the work, even though the police did not have a court order to nullify the injunction.

“Within a few hours, at approximately 10:00 P.M., the municipality filed a new claim with the court that the work it was carrying out was not related to a building permit that had not yet been issued for the construction of the checkpoint, but according to a permit by municipal traffic-sign authority, as if it were an innocent matter of transportation and traffic arrangements. In addition, the municipality argued that the termination of the work at this stage endangers the passing vehicles and therefore must be completed. Wielding this claim, the judge nullified the injunction and allowed the municipality to complete its work. By Friday evening, 16 February 2018, almost all of the work on infrastructure for the checkpoint was completed by the Jerusalem municipality at its own expense.”