Video: Decades of displacement continue in al-Walaja as Israel demolishes more homes

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It’s been three days since Khaled Abu Kheyara, 32, was faced with the moment he had been dreading for the past year.

In the middle of the night, as bulldozers and armed Israeli soldiers surrounded his home, he woke up his three young children and told them their home was being destroyed.

“It was around 3:30am when the soldiers arrived to our home,” Abu Kheyara told Mondoweiss as he sat among all his family’s belongings in his new home — a small tent made of metal rods and tarp.

“We barely had any time to take out all of our belongings before they started demolishing the house,” he said.

Abu Kheyara’s home, which he shared with his brother and his family, was the first of four buildings that Israeli forces destroyed on Monday morning in the Bethlehem-area village of al-Walaja, in the southern occupied West Bank.

As forces moved from one home to the next, Abu Kheyara told Mondoweiss that villagers and activists from Bethlehem came to the scene to try to barricade the homes.

“We were just trying to protect our homes and they just started firing at us and violently pulling people, even the women, out of the buildings,” he recounted.

Video of the violent evacuations show Israeli forces pushing, shoving, kicking, and punching men and women in attempts to get them out of the houses. Forces also fired sound bombs, tear gas, and rubber bullets, injuring at least 10 people.

“Despite all our efforts, by 11:30am, they had finished what they wanted to do and left al-Walaja,” Abu Kheyara said. “They went back to their lives, and left us to deal with the destruction.”

Abu Kheyara and his family members and neighbors, who come in and out of the tent with coffee and some snacks for the children, told Mondoweiss that around 40 people were left homeless, 30 of them, he says, are children.

The rubble of Abu Kheyara’s home next to the tent that the family is currently living out of (Photo: Yumna Patel)

A family history of displacement

Abu Kheyara and his family, like many residents of al-Walaja, come from what locals call the “old al-Walaja.” It is the historic land of al-Walaja, visible just over the mountain from Abu Kheyara’s home, that was annexed and made part of Israel in 1948.

As a result, most of al-Walaja’s residents — including Abu Kheyara’s family — became refugees, fleeing to the present day area of the village, which is only around 30% of the village’s original land, and sits on the Palestinian side of the Green Line.

“My grandfather’s home in the old al-Walaja was destroyed when Israel took over the village in 1948,” he said, as he pointed to the lush green mountains in the distance, dotted with Israeli homes.

“And after he was displaced from there, and he came here and built a home here, they also destroyed that home,” Abu Kheyara said of his grandfather.

Following its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel unilaterally expanded the boundaries of Israeli‐controlled Jerusalem and illegally annexed more Palestinian territory, including another 50% of the “new al-Walaja.”

When part of the new al-Walaja was illegally annexed by Israel, Palestinians living in the area came under the jurisdiction of the expanded Israeli Jerusalem municipality, though to this day, they have not been offered Jerusalem residency, nor do they receive any services from the municipality.

“The only service that the municipality gives us, is demolition service,” Abu Kheyara said, as he pointed to the rubble of his home behind him. “They say we are under the rule of the municipality, but we don’t enjoy any of the services that Jews living in Jerusalem do. No Palestinians do.”

“My grandfather’s homes were destroyed, they [Israel] destroyed my father’s home, they destroyed my brothers’ homes, multiple times, and now the destroyed my home,” he said, as he counted off the demolitions on his fingers.

He estimated that throughout his family’s history, Israel has destroyed their homes at least 10 times.

“But of course, we are not the only ones,” he said, as he gestured to his neighbors, who nodded their heads in agreement.

“No one, absolutely no on in al-Walaja gets permits from Israel. It is impossible. In the Jerusalem-area of the village, and the Area C part of the village,” he said.

“To build a house of my own, it has been a dream of mine forever,” Abu Kheyara, who had been living with his wife and kids in a rental apartment until recently, told Mondoweiss.

“And in just a few minutes, they took that away from me.”

Abu Kheyara’s family’s belongings are being stored in this tent (Photo: Yumna Patel)

The future under occupation

As Abu Kheyara spoke to Mondoweiss, his children and nieces and nephews played inside the tent, the rubble of their home in the background.

“I don’t know how to describe my feelings,” he said, as he looked over at his young daughter sitting on the dusty earth.

“Every day, the kids ask ‘Dad, where is our kitchen, where is our bathroom, where is my bed?’, and I have to tell them that they don’t have a bed anymore. I can’t explain what this feels like.”

Abu Kheyara’s niece and nephew walk past the family’s tent (Photo: Yumna Patel)

When asked about his fears, hopes, and dreams for the future, Abu Kheyara expressed that he just wants his children to grow up with peace and security.

“They are already surrounded by the occupation from all sides here in al-Walaja,” he said, as he listed off all the Israeli settlements surrounding the village, and the separation wall and military checkpoint a few hundreds of meters away.

Israel’s separation wall in al-Walaja (Photo: Yumna Patel)

“It is devastating when you have to tell your kids that ‘we don’t have a home right now,’ but I tell them we will rebuild soon, and surely, we will rebuild,” he said.

Despite the tens of thousands of shekels lost to the home that he worked so hard to built, and tried so hard to protect, Abu Kheyara insists that he will build another home — even if there is a sure chance it will be demolished again.

“We have to build, not just for our children to have a home but to maintain our rights to this land,” he said defiantly. “They can keep destroying our homes, and trying to kick us off this land, but we will never leave.”