On 16 April, approximately 100 Palestinian villagers and internationals walked towards the construction site of Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank village of al-Walaja, four kilometers northwest of Bethlehem. When the protesters were leaving the village, four Israeli army jeeps and one police vehicle entered and surrounded a Palestinian home. At least 40 persons, including women and children, were trapped for two hours.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces raided several other homes, detaining three young men for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli forces. During the raids al-Walaja was closed off, and soldiers prevented the media from entering the area.
Six days later, Israeli bulldozers were working full speed deeper inside the village’s lands, leaving destruction in their wake. Ma’an news agency reported that border guards and soldiers had imposed a curfew early in the morning. A cameraman was denied entry to the village by the army, according to representatives of the village’s Popular Committee.
The following day approximately 200 villagers, together with a few internationals, came together for yet another demonstration. They walked from the mosque, which has an Israeli-imposed demolition order against it, to the lands which were bulldozed the previous day. Standing on the bulldozed lands, representatives of the village held speeches calling for more demonstrations. Youths used boulders to block the road used by the Israeli bulldozer operators.
A day later, approximately 50 Palestinians and internationals managed to stop the work of the bulldozers for several hours. The Israeli soldiers had to violently drag the villagers away one by one.
History of injustices
The residents of al-Walaja have protested the confiscation and demolition of their property for many years. The Israeli settlements of Har Gilo and Gilo, established in the 1970s, are built on land confiscated from the village. While Israeli forces try to silence the protesters with harsh measures, Volvo and Caterpillar equipment is used by the Israeli forces in the illegal construction of the wall on the village’s land.
The old village of al-Walaja was occupied and destroyed by Zionist forces in October 1948 and its 1,200 Palestinian residents expelled. The 1948 Armistice line passed through the southern lands of the village and while most of the villagers fled to Jordan and Bethlehem, some villagers stayed on the lands of the village that were unoccupied at the time and eventually rebuilt a new town.
The remains of the old village of al-Walaja are two kilometers outside the new town, on the western side of the armistice line between Israel and the West Bank. According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, a few stone houses still stand on the old village site. Today the old village of al-Walaja is used by Israeli settlers for picnicking and bathing.
Following the June 1967 war, Israel annexed the rest of al-Walaja’s lands, bringing them under the authority of the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality. The villagers did not receive the right to live in Jerusalem, however, and they live under constant threat of expulsion. And while the villagers of al-Walaja are not allowed to build on their own lands, the settlement of Har Gilo is expanding.
After the Oslo accords of 1993, al-Walaja was designated “Area C,” giving Israel full military and administrative control. As a consequence, villagers who want to build a house on their own land have to ask permission from Israel. Israel denied 94 percent of the building permit requests of Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank from 2000 to 2007, according to Peace Now.
Villagers are facing increased pressure from the Israeli occupation forces to leave their land. The wall which is currently under construction will surround the village from all sides, isolating the villagers completely from their land, East Jerusalem and the old village.
Volvo equipment destroying homes
At the end of the 1980s Israel started to demolish Palestinian homes in al-Walaja and residents had to pay fines for their “illegally”-built homes. Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, Israeli forces demolished more than 24 houses in the village, according to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem.
On 18 March two house owners in al-Walaja found military orders in Hebrew on the front doors of their homes. The orders concern the demolition of the two houses because they are located too close to the path along which the wall will be built. The following day, volunteers from the Stop the Wall Campaign, the YMCA and other international volunteers gathered with the owners of the houses under demolition in order to show their solidarity.
ActiveStills photographer Anne Paq witnessed Volvo equipment being used to destroy a home in the nearby village of al-Khader. Two days earlier she had taken pictures of Volvo and Caterpillar equipment working between the road and the fence of Har Gilo settlement, just a few meters away from Palestinian houses in al-Walaja. There was an Israeli police car parked next to the works. When Paq asked what they were building, they refused to answer.
Two years ago The Electronic Intifada first reported the use of Volvo equipment in Israel’s violations of international law in the occupied West Bank. So far the company has taken no action to investigate the use of its equipment in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.
Volvo Group’s vice president of media relations and corporate news, Marten Wikforss, wrote in response to The Electronic Intifada’s report: “we do not have any control over the use of our products, other than to affirm in our business activities a Code of Conduct that decries unethical behavior.”
While the villagers of al-Walaja steadfastly continue their protest against the construction of the wall, the confiscation of their land and the destruction of their property, Israeli forces are increasing the oppression. Some houses have been rebuilt three or four times. Director of the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA, Nidal Abu Zuluf, explained: “Israel’s current repressive policies aim to prevent acts of popular resistance. They don’t want the media and internationals to be around.”
Perhaps neither does Volvo, as its equipment continues to be photographed destroying Palestinian homes and violating Palestinian rights.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.