The rabbinic human right organization T'ruah celebrated the High Court of Justice's decision on Tuesday to freeze the demolition of at least 38 homes in the Palestinian village of al-Walaja, the organization said in a statement.
Located just south of Jerusalem, the Green Line demarcating Israeli versus Palestinian territory runs through the village, leading to ongoing legal problems.
Israel wants to demolish the part of the village under its jurisdiction, both due to what it deems illegal construction and in order to expand the Emek Refaim National Park due the area's unique landscape and agricultural history. The residents, with the help of human rights organizations Ir Amim and Bimkom, appealed the decision in 2018 in the Jerusalem Regional Court, arguing that Israel since 1967 did not approve any construction in the village as part of a policy, forcing it to expand illegally, and that demolishing their homes was thus unjustified and even illegal.
The court initially ruled that the residents have the right to propose their own expansion plans, but these were rejected in January 2021 on what the residents claimed were unfair grounds, and appealed to the High Court.
The High Court on Tuesday decided to give the residents another six months to submit revised construction plans, a positive turn in what otherwise was a string of legal defeats for the residents.
“We applaud the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to freeze the 38 demolition orders on Palestinian homes in Al-Walaja for six months, as well as the justices’ support for a planning process in the village," said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T'ruah. "Although the town of al-Walaja now needs to invest much time and money to complete a zoning plan together, the residents, together with their Israeli and Palestinian partners, have already demonstrated that they have the capacity and the commitment to carry out such a process. We pray that this decision indicates a shift toward allowing the residents to remain in their homes for the long term," she said.
“T’ruah has consistently opposed expulsions from neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and the West Bank for more than a decade. We have fought back against attempts by Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF-KKL) to evict families and attempts by settler organizations to displace Palestinians for archaeological projects. Targeted evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem — with the goal of ‘Judaizing’ those neighborhoods — are unjust and illegal. Those of us committed to a just, negotiated resolution must vocally oppose these evictions, which only further entrench the occupation," she said.
“The ancient rabbis taught that a home is a 'mikdash me’at', a small sanctuary. Throughout history, Jews have faced violent expulsion from our own homes — our miniature holy sites — at the whims of rulers. We know the anxiety of insecurity and the pain of loss, and we must stand up for those who are threatened with this same indignity."
“This decision is a testament to the passion and hard work by the residents of al-Walaja, together with Israeli and Palestinian activists, and supporters in the United States and beyond who have brought attention to this struggle. T’ruah will continue to partner with these leaders to ensure that all residents of al-Walaja can remain in their homes, including the more than a dozen other families who have been delivered demolition orders since the initial petition was filed. We will continue to support the villagers as they work to create an equitable and fair zoning plan that will ensure the security and welfare of all residents," Jacobs continued.
“T’ruah rabbis and cantors are committed to a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We will continue to stand with our Israeli partners, including human rights and civil society organizations, as well as with Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, in their efforts to protest and bring legal challenges to immoral eviction efforts.”
T'ruah, or in its full name, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, includes a network of over 2,300 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that acts to enhance human rights in the US, Israel and the West Bank.