Omar, his wife and three young sons farm a small area of land on the outskirts of Al Walaja, a Village of 2000 Palestinians, 4km North West of Bethlehem.
In 1949 the Green Line between Israel and the Palestinian territories was drawn close to the village, cutting off 75% of its land on the Israeli side. Now Al Walaja is one of the many Palestinian communities losing even more land as Israel extends its infamous Separation Barrier. At 700km, the Barrier is twice as long as the Green Line, snaking close to Palestinian towns and villages, grabbing their land and water on the Israeli side. Eighty-five per cent of the Barrier route is on Palestinian land, not on the Green Line and for this reason it has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
Completion of the Barrier will cost the people of Al Walaja another 150 hectares – most of their remaining agricultural land. Over 100 Al Walaja homes have been demolished or issued with demolition orders The Israeli authorities have blocked the road to the olive groves and uprooted hundreds of olive trees. The village completely surrounded by the Barrier. Meanwhile the Israeli Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality have announced plans to build 12,000 housing units for 45,000 more illegal Israeli Settlers in Har Gilo Settlement, plus 1000 hotel rooms, all on land owned by Al Walaja villagers.
Omar’s house and land are now on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier. Omar told us the Israeli authorities had offered him a blank cheque to leave his home. When he refused, they offered him twice as much land in Area A of the West Bank – land that is entirely under Palestinian jurisdiction and not Israel’s to give away. When he refused again the Israeli authorities went ahead with the Barrier, building a tunnel under it, at a cost of $1.3 billion, to connect Omar’s house to the village. Blasting during construction of the tunnel has damaged the foundations of Omar’s house.
Next the Israelis plan to encircle Omar’s house with a 5m high electrified fence to ensure he has no way out except the tunnel. Whether Omar’s land ends up on his side of the fence or the Israeli side, is a question the authorities have not yet answered. Omar’s three young sons can no longer play outside the house because of the presence of Israeli soldiers. Omar’s wife can no longer stand the strain and has gone to live in the village. Omar himself is recovering from his second heart attack, but determined to stay on his land.