Tearing Down Al Walaja

Tearing Down Al Walaja
January 17th, 2005
By Aaron Lakoff

Just one half hour outside the bustling city of Jerusalem, and just across the deep green valley, lies the small Palestinian village of Al Walaja. It is a sunny and peaceful day. It is so clear that you can se the sprawling Israeli settlement of Gilo just on the adjacent hilltop, and so quiet that you could hear a pin drop amongst the lines of lemon trees.
However, this morning that peace and serenity will be broken. Our team of international activists has received word that the Israeli occupation forces have permits to demolish dozens of houses in Al Walaja, and they're going to get started bright and early.
It is apparent that the Israeli authorities love acting under Kafkaesque terms in the West Bank. Everything here boggles the mind once it appears before your eyes. For instance, on our way to Al Walaja, we hear the army has declared the area an official closed military zone. While this term may conjure up the image of a barren war zone with land mines exploding left, right, and center, this is simply military double-speak for any area they want to tear to the ground and where there is a good chance the locals might resist.
Sure enough, we get to one entrance of the village and are immediately turned away by the army. Persistent to push through, we circle around to another entrance, cross by foot through a road block, and enter the village.
On the main road going in to Al Walaja, a menacing yellow object rears in the distance. It is a massive, American-made Caterpillar bulldozer – one of the most omnipresent symbols of the occupation in Palestine. As it lumbers towards us, it brings with it two other demolition vehicles in tow, and a deafening rumbling noise. This disgusting, clattering noise not only shatters the peace of a beautiful morning, but shatters the peace of an entire village under the threat of being literally flattened.
Wandering around the slopes of Al Walaja, one has to scrape the infinity of their imagination for any reason as to why the Israelis would have any security interests here. But one could find a creative excuse as to why the donkeys tied to trees, children herding sheep in the hills, or luscious fruit trees could be a threat to the state of Israel.
Ridiculous as it may be, what has happened in this village is no laughing matter. The work of the IDF in recent days, and even on this morning, is evident. Piles of rocks, chairs, and bathtubs now lie where humble farm houses once stood. Water pipes have been broken open, allowing water to spray out and irrigate the fields in a very unwelcome manner. It is scary, but the fields of Al Walaja are slowly being cleansed of their Palestinian inhabitants, and it is conceivable that in the near future, an Israeli settlement like Gilo could creep across the deep valley and sink its way onto these beautiful, fertile lands.
As it turns out, we have arrived on a slow day - slow meaning that today the army only demolished a few sheds and animal houses. We visit a house on the outskirts of the village, home to Mohammed and 21 other of his extended family members. The house is big and welcoming. The interior is like what you would expect from any house in the West – large, comfortable rooms, a TV set in the living room, carpets, and a washing machine. Sadly, it is all set to be torn down by order of the Israeli government.
Unfortunately, Mohammed is no stranger to this drill. Just last year, the army tore down the back half of his house, and builders are still working today to put it back up. This morning, the soldiers came and tore down the shed in the front of his house. Next, they came around the back and ordered his dove pen to be done away with. After Mohammed had quickly moved the doves from one cage to another, the army ordered that he destroy the second one himself.
This was the last straw for him. Mohammed simply refused, saying he would never destroy his own property – a symbol of his livelihood. Eventually, the soldiers and their Caterpillars left, but for how long? Mohammed has a worried look on his brow. They could come back tomorrow, or any day after that. Nobody knows. Al Walaja is kept in the dark.
Back in front of the house, in a huge yard, half the village seems to be assembled. Old men in kafiyehs are sitting on lawn chairs, drinking tea and smoking in the noon-hour sun. As rubble from Mohammed's shed is being taken away, people are smiling and chatting informally. It is a strong showing of community support, in a community that could be no longer.

To view Aaron's pictures of Al Walaja, visit; http://gallery.cmaq.net/album28