Fifty Democratic US Congress members wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend to ask Washington to intervene on behalf of hundreds of Palestinians threatened with having their homes demolished in a village that lies partially inside Jerusalem.
Al-Walaja, a small agricultural town on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, lies partially inside East Jerusalem and partially in the West Bank. Although rights groups say the town predates the establishment of the State of Israel, most construction there is deemed illegal by Israeli authorities.
Israel conquered al-Walaja along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967, and about one-third of the town was annexed to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem municipal authorities never issued a master plan for the “neighborhood” — rendering the homes there illegal.
Demolition orders have been issued for at least 38 homes in al-Walaja, potentially rendering over 300 Palestinians homeless, according to rights groups. Between 2016 and 2021, around 25 illegal structures were demolished in the village, according to the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit.
“The destruction and displacement of this community would run counter to the values shared by the US and Israel, while further undermining long-term Israeli security, Palestinian dignity, and prospects for peace,” the US lawmakers wrote.
Demolitions of illegally built Palestinian homes have become a painful, thorny issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli authorities say that they demolish both Arab and Jewish homes alike, while Palestinians say that Israel does not issue them the permits required to build legally.
Israeli courts have held numerous hearings on the al-Walaja case, and the demolitions have been repeatedly delayed. A potentially decisive hearing in Israel’s High Court of Justice is set for March 30.
Most of the letter’s signatories were left-wing Democratic progressives such as California representative Barbara Lee and Minnesota lawmaker Betty McCollum.
“We request that you work with the Israeli government to immediately halt demolitions in al-Walaja and ensure that the planning authorities are working with the Palestinian residents to advance an equitable development plan that will formally authorize existing homes,” the lawmakers told Blinken.