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Cablegate: Municipal Planning Failure Endangers Village

VZCZCXRO3932
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHJM #2257/01 3451538
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111538Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6965
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 JERUSALEM 002257

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NEA FOR FRONT OFFICE AND IPA; NSC FOR SHAPIRO/KUMAR; JOINT
STAFF FOR LTGEN SELVA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPAL KWBG IS
SUBJECT: MUNICIPAL PLANNING FAILURE ENDANGERS VILLAGE
STRADDLING JERUSALEM-WEST BANK BOUNDARY

REF: JERUSALEM 2063

1. (SBU) Summary: Residents of the village of al-Walaja,
which straddles the line between the Municipality of
Jerusalem and the West Bank, are in legal limbo. This is a
result of the Jerusalem District Planning Board's February
2009 rejection of a town planning scheme for the village, the
August 2009 expiration of a court order halting demolition
orders against 45 homes, and the failure of villagers'
efforts either to obtain Jerusalem residency permits or have
the whole of the village declared part of the West Bank.
Israeli lawyers and planners representing the villagers are
calling for international attention to prevent the resumption
of home demolitions and punitive detentions, which occurred
in al-Walaja throughout the 1990s and earlier in the decade.
End Summary.

HISTORY: AN OVERLOOKED ANNEXATION
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) The village of al-Walaja, which has some 2,000
residents, was founded in 1948 by Arab refugees from the new
State of Israel, who took up residence on agricultural lands
they owned on the Jordanian-controlled side of the 1948
armistice line. (Ninety-seven percent of al-Walaja's current
population has refugee status.) From 1948 to 1967, al-Walaja
was administered by Jordanian authorities. Following
Israel's military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the
village was administered and provided with services by the
predecessor agency of what is now referred to as the Israeli
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
(COGAT), and villagers held Israeli-issued West Bank
identification cards. In the mid-1980s, Jerusalem
municipality officials executed demolition orders against two
homes in the northern half of the village. They did so on
the basis that this portion of al-Walaja, comprising 300-320
homes, had, since 1967, been located inside the Jerusalem
municipal borders (which were unilaterally expanded by the
GOI in 1967).

3. (SBU) Municipality officials have subsequently issued a
total of 45 additional home demolition orders in this portion
of al-Walaja, on the basis that these homes had been
constructed after 1967, and without municipal permission.
Throughout this period and until today, the residents of
al-Walaja have paid no municipal taxes and received no
municipal services, including health care and education, the
side of the boundary on which they resided notwithstanding.
Residents of that portion of al-Walaja defined by the GOI as
located inside Jerusalem were never issued Jerusalem
residency permits and, until the 1980s, were unaware that
they lived inside the municipal borders. They also became
subject to periodic arrests by the Israeli Border Police, on
the grounds that they were illegally present inside their
homes.

CURRENT STATUS: AN UNRESOLVED QUANDARY
---------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Since discovering in the mid-1980s that half of
their village fell under Jerusalem municipal rather than
COGAT administration, al-Walaja residents have tried through
various means to regularize their personal and property
status under Israeli law. According to UNRWA, villagers
unsuccessfully petitioned in 1989 and 2003 that the whole of
the village be "returned" to the West Bank. Residents of the
portion of the village inside Jerusalem municipal borders
have brought court cases requesting the issuance of Jerusalem
residency permits. These cases have stalemated, according to
residents and NGO observers.

5. (SBU) In 2006, with the assistance of Israeli lawyer
Eitan Peleg and planner Claude Rosenkowitz, the residents of
al-Walaja petitioned the courts to order a halt to
demolitions on the grounds that the village was in the
process of submitting a town plan to municipal and regional
planning officials that would retroactively legalize those
homes subject to demolition. In what Peleg described as an
"unprecedented, unique" move, municipal courts issued a
three-year stop-work order on the 45 demolition orders. That
decision, combined with a 2004 court order barring the GOI
from routing the separation barrier through the center of the
village, seemed to presage a possible solution.

6. (SBU) A setback ocurred in February 2009, when the
Jerusalem District Planning Board rejected this planning

JERUSALEM 00002257 002 OF 002


scheme on the grounds that the new Jerusalem Master Plan
proposed by Mayor Nir Barkat would, if approved, zone the
al-Walaja area as future "green space," as well as on the
grounds that the Board did not wish to retroactively legalize
illegal construction. In August 2009, the court order
halting home demolitions in al-Walaja expired, having run its
three-year course.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR VILLAGERS, HOMES
-------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Peleg and Rosenkowitz noted to Post that while the
municipality has not yet moved to resume demolitions since
the stop-order's August expiration, the 45 orders remain
valid, and could be executed at any time. In the absence of
an approved town planning scheme, no new legal construction
in al-Walaja is possible, nor is retroactive municipal
approval of building completed after 1967. Without forward
progress on court cases brought by villagers seeking
Jerusalem residency permits, large numbers of al-Walaja
residents remain "illegally present" in their homes.

8. (SBU) NGO contacts and villagers also expressed concern
to ConGenOffs about the planned route of the separation
barrier in the al-Walaja area. In 2005, they successfully
obtained a court order barring the GOI from routing the
barrier through the center of the village, on humanitarian
grounds. However, the revised route of the barrier remains
problematic, they said, as it will turn the village into a
walled enclave connected with Bethlehem by a tunnel. This
would increase movement and access hurdles, and further
impoverish the village, where unemployment stands at 70
percent.

9. (SBU) Residents also expressed concern about press
reports indicating that private developers are seeking to
construct a 45,000-resident settlement, called Givat Yael, in
an arc to the village's north, west, and south -- and,
according to some maps, on private property inside the
village itself (Reftel). Israeli daily Haaretz reported in
late September that Givat Yael's planners had approached the
residents of al-Walaja seeking an "accommodation" in which
the planners would support the legalization of homes subject
to demolition inside al-Walaja, in exchange for villagers'
agreement not to oppose the construction of the Givat Yael
settlement. Villagers told ConGenOffs they refused the offer.

VILLAGERS POINT FINGER AT GOI INTENTIONS
----------------------------------------

10. (SBU) On a December 4 visit to al-Walaja, villagers
told Post that they distrusted GOI motives and the GOI's
failure to regularize their status. One said, "We've been
asking for a master plan (to legalize construction) for five
years -- but the problem is Givat Yael. Givat Yael will
start from (the nearby settlement of) Gilo, and come up to
here. We've been asking to have Jerusalem identification
cards since 2004, but the Israelis refuse because they're
planning for the future. If we're here illegally, it's
easier to get rid of us."


ACTIVISTS REQUEST INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION
-----------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Israeli NGOs and activists working with the
villagers argued that more than legal assistance, what was
needed in al-Walaja was the sort of international attention
given to home evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and planned
demolitions in the al-Bustan area of Silwan. "We need to
serve notice," one argued, "that there are eyes other than
ours on this case. This is a special case. You have
refugees, you have the barrier, you have home demolitions,
you have the problems we face with planning. This is a
humanitarian issue."

RUBINSTEIN

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