Supreme Court freezes demolition orders for 38 homes in East Jerusalem village

Judges grant a 6-month stay — day after Blinken wraps up trip — in order to allow al-Walaja homeowners to produce a master plan that could pave way for town’s full legalization

Jewish and Arab activists protests outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against slated demolitions in the East Jerusalem village of al-Walaja on March 30, 2022. (Standing Together/Twitter)
Jewish and Arab activists protests outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against slated demolitions in the East Jerusalem village of al-Walaja on March 30, 2022. (Standing Together/Twitter)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday placed a six-month hold on a massive demolition plan the state has been seeking to carry out in a Palestinian village on the outskirts of East Jerusalem.

The decision was made after the state representatives agreed to a request during a long-awaited hearing to provide the residents of al-Walaja with time to produce a master plan, which — if accepted by authorities — would regulate the homes there and prevent their razing.

The hearing took place just a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the country. During his meetings with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as at the Negev Summit, he stressed the Biden administration’s opposition to unilateral moves such as home demolitions that damage prospects for peace.

Days before Blinken arrived, he received a letter from 50 Democratic lawmakers who urged him to intervene on behalf of the residents of Walaja where 38 homes were slated for demolition.

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.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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 to Blinken.

Most of the letter’s signatories were left-wing Democratic progressives such as California representative Barbara Lee and Minnesota lawmaker Betty McCollum.

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.

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