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Israel resumes construction of illegal separation wall near al-Walaja

April 30, 2017 10:47 P.M. (Updated: May 1, 2017 2:52 P.M.)
A file photo of the illegal Israeli separation wall near the village of al-Walaja, in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities resumed construction of the illegal separation wall in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem after a three-year hiatus, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Saturday.

Wafa quoted Hassan Brijiya, an activist with the Bethlehem-area committee against Israeli settlements and the separation wall, as saying that Israeli authorities had placed a four-meter high barbed wire fence in the Ain Jweiza area northwest of the village of al-Walaja.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz corroborated the information, adding that construction of the illegal separation wall -- also known as the annexation or apartheid wall -- had been frozen in the al-Walaja area three years ago following legal battles and protests denouncing the move as causing huge damages to the landscape and archaeological heritage in the area.

However, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israeli authorities could proceed with construction of the wall in the area. It remained unclear, however, why the move was occurring now. A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, was not immediately available for comment on the case.

Residents of al-Walaja have already lost over three-quarters of their lands since Israel was established in 1948, when most of the village’s residents became refugees. During Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, 50 percent of al-Walaja’s lands were annexed to the Jerusalem municipality.

Israel’s separation wall encircles al-Walaja, the hometown of slain Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj, and swathes of land have been reappropriated by the Israeli government for the construction and expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo, Har Gilo, and Givat Yael.

The Israeli government has also planned to confiscate hundreds of acres from al-Walaja for the establishment of a national park. In December, reports emerged that Israeli authorities were planning on moving a military checkpoint in the area, blocking off Palestinian access to a natural spring in al-Walaja known as Ain al-Haniyeh, and isolating several hundred acres of privately owned Palestinian land in the outskirts of the village.

The village’s council head Abd al-Rahman Abu al-Tin said during a press briefing in May 2016 that “if and when the wall is completed, it will turn the village into a prison.”

Israel began building the separation wall with concrete slabs, fences, and barbed-wire inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, or uprising, claiming that it was crucial for security.

However, critics have slammed the wall as a violation of international law, separating Palestinians from their lands, enabling the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, and encroaching far beyond the 1967 Green Line, which supporters of the two-state solution believe should mark the border between Israel and an independent Palestinian state, further fragmenting the occupied Palestinian territory.
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