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Occupation magazine - Activism

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New hope in closing battle of the wall; a week in the west bank village of Al Wallaje
Yotam Wolfe and Joseph Dana
Email: jo_themo@yahoo.com

In the cool summer evening air of the Jerusalem hills last Tuesday evening, hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis descended on the small village of al-Walaja for a screening of the critically acclaimed documentary Budrus. The screening was jointly organized by Israelis and Palestinians who are working to non-violently resist the construction of Israel’s separation barrier on the village’s land. The screening bore special significance for the people of al-Walaja as the film follows the story of a West Bank village’s unarmed struggle against the construction of Israel’s separation barrier on its farmland and its subsequent success in having the route of the wall changed.

The village of al-Walaja sits between Beit Jala and Jerusalem next to the settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, both built on historic al-Walaja land. The village, which originally held 17,793 dunums on both sides of the green line, lost 70% of its land on 1948-on which the Israeli villages Ora and Aminadav were built- and after further annexations now consists of only 4,400.
The village itself was originally located on the what is now Israeli territory, and upon Israeli attack on 1948 and hearing about the Deir Yassin massacre completely deserted with 5%-10% percent of the refugees settling on the village lands that where then in Jordanian territory.

In 1968 about half of the village was included in the land illegally annexed by Israel as part of Jerusalem without the villagers` knowledge, providing them none of the services residents of Israel are entitled to. Recently, Israel has started to construct a portion of its separation wall on al-Walaja’s land; it is currently the only part of the nearly finished wall under construction.
The wall will completely surround the village leaving only one entrance to be controlled by an Israeli military checkpoint which will isolate the village from Jerusalem, a main area of employment and services for many villagers.  In some portions, the wall will be as close as five meters from houses of al-Walaja residents cutting them off from their fields and building reserves. Last Sunday, the Israeli High Court, on appeal from the residents of al-Walaja, decided to request a ‘full explanation’ from the state about the route of the wall. The state has forty five days to explain itself to the court although work is allowed to continue during this time.

The villagers appeal was joined by the Nature Preservation Society which argued that the wall and adjacent security road composing of a strip 50-100m wide will harm both nature and the traditional agriculture found in the area.

On the heels of this important decision, the resemblance between the situation the people of Budrus faced during the time of the film and the threat al-Walaje is facing now made for an emotional screening. Budrus was one of the first Palestinian villages to embrace a model of unarmed resistance to the creation of Israel’s separation barrier on its land. Due to the success of this model of resistance other villages such as Bi’lin and Ni’lin have adapted similar tactics in confronting the theft of their valuable land.

During the screening, many in the audience were emotional as images of demonstrations in Budrus flashed before their eyes. Packed in a room of Israelis and Palestinians working together to protect a small village’s land from confiscation by Israel’s separation wall while watching the uplifting story of Budrus, it was hard not to be emotional.

The crowd was made up of veteran activists, inquisitive young Israelis, tourists with a political interest and people from the village of all ages including a group of 30 kids from the village`s summer camp.

A key plot line of the film is the cooperation between Palestinians, Israelis and internationals in organizing and demonstrating against the wall. These demonstrations, which are documented in the film, often involved harsh Israeli repression in the form tear gas, sound bombs and the use of live fire against unarmed demonstrators. The residents of al-Walaja are accustomed to seeing the same type of violence from the Israeli army during their non-violent demonstrations.

In what could be described as a passing of the torch, Ayed Morrar, the Palestinian community organizer of Budrus and one of the film’s protagonists, was on hand in al-Walaja for questions after the screening. He appealed for Palestinians to ‘free themselves of traditional thinking’ in adopting new models of non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. He argued that Palestinian woman should play a greater role in participation and organization of non-violent demonstrations. He noted the similarities between Budrus and al-Walaja in their struggle against the wall and occupation.

Israeli activist, Yotam Wolfe, appealed to the Israeli members of the audience to keep attending the demonstrations in al-Walaja just as Israelis had done in Budrus. He reminded everyone that as Israelis with extreme privilege in society, it is a moral responsibility to help the people of al-Walaja in their struggle. One Israeli, writing on his blog in Hebrew, wrote about returning to Jerusalem after the screening; ‘I returned full of hope and anger, full of anger and pain, full of love…” I believe his statement captures the feeling that all of us had after viewing this incredible film in al-Walaja.


Three days after the screening the village held its regular Friday demonstration against the wall- as many villages across the west bank do for years.

This was not an ordinary demonstration though as the hope and conviction from Tuesday clearly resonated, it seemed like a new beginning after recent demo`s that were small and lethargic.

About 80 villagers including a crowd of children was joined by 20 israeli and international sympathizers, a much more inspiring sight than the group of 10 men joined by an activist or two which was the trend before.

The crowd advanced from the village in a procession carrying Palestinian flags and responding to chants from a megaphone such as `no to the theft wall, no to house demolitions` (rhymes in Arabic).

We walked towards the new wall between the village and the settlement Har-Gilo, I noticed it was bare concrete on the Palestinian side and clad with the local lime stone on the settlers` side so it won’t be an eyesore for the jewish citizens.

It was clear to me that the presence of the new concrete monster was charging the demonstration with more energy and anger than I have ever seen there.
We then walked along the route of the wall on a dirt path by the fence of `Har Gilo`, it`s houses within 15 meters from us. Two Israeli border police propped up on one of the settlements roofs and were keeping a nervous eye on us, two army jeeps hovered by us on the village side stopping close for intimidation.
Nevertheless, none of the villagers were deterred or frightened; neither did their anger revert to engaging the soldiers by throwing stones. They simply continued with their calls for justice.

On Saturday I returned once again to the village, this time for a different kind of event.

It was the closing event of the summer camp and village gathered to watch the kids perform the Debka -a traditional Palestinian dance- and drama they learned in the previous month.

That evening wasn`t devoid of political sentiment either as half of the performances were in reference to the village plight and that of the Palestinian people.

There was a play in which kids sat in two rows of chairs on the stage with one girl that playing the narrator, passing the mike between the children that each represented an element of oppression hurting the Palestinian public and gave a short monologue about its `character`. It looked like a session of psychodrama for post-traumatic kids.

There was also a dance performance that combined basic western modern and Arab dance.

It was slow movement that looked like some lament dance.

The closing act was a play about a village demonstration, complete with a group of armed Israeli soldiers battering the participants.

One of the organizers gave a speech, he talked about how there are `bad` Israelis -soldiers and settlers- and good Israelis who are their allies for fighting for peace. When he said that my friend Adel sitting next to me said: `that`s for you`.

In conclusion, history might tell how the village of Al Walaje dealt successfully with the closing battle on the wall and if the torch first lit at `budrus` was passed along.


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