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 Alarming Measures Designed to Further Consolidate East Jerusalem's Southern Perimeter

October 16, 2019

Over the past month and a half, a number of concerning developments have taken place in the area of Jerusalem's southern periphery aimed at solidifying the connection between the Gush Etzion settlements and Jerusalem, while further fragmenting the Palestinian space in the Bethlehem area into isolated enclaves. These various Israeli measures point to steps to seal off East Jerusalem's southern perimeter from the West Bank as well as realization in this area of the "Greater Jerusalem" concept  – a plan to exponentially expand the area of Jerusalem through connecting the three major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev to the city. Likewise, these developments serve to further disrupt Palestinian land contiguity in the area and dismantle prospects for the two-state solution.

  • Expansion of Route 60 Leading to Settlements South of Jerusalem
  • New Settler Outpost between Bethlehem and Batir
  • Opening of National Park on Al-Walaja Lands and Renewed Attempts to Relocate Al-Walaja Checkpoint, Blocking Village Residents from Agricultural Land
  • Demolitions in Al-Walaja

Expansion of Route 60 (The Tunnel Road) Leading to Settlements South of Jerusalem

At the end of August, work began to expand Route 60 (The Tunnel Road), which is the main highway leading from Jerusalem southwards to the settlements between Bethlehem and Hebron. Expansion of the road calls for additional lanes as well as new tunnels and bridges.  Massive road infrastructure projects are part and parcel of the settlement enterprise and are used to lay the groundwork for future settlement expansion. Expansion of Route 60 should therefore be seen as a precursor for expansion of settlements along Jerusalem's southern perimeter. The cost of the road expansion is an estimated one billion shekels.

Part of the expansion is taking place inside the area annexed to Jerusalem along the eastern edge of the Gilo neighborhood/settlement, while additional work is also being carried out in Area C of the West Bank on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.

While all the roadwork is being implemented beyond the Green Line, it is only being carried out in areas within the Israeli side of the checkpoint, excluding Palestinian traffic from accessing it. In September, the Israeli military issued expropriation orders for eleven dunams of land in Beit Jala and Al-Khader for the purpose of expanding the highway in the vicinity of the checkpoint (where Palestinian traffic is legally allowed but in practice does not pass there as it leads to the checkpoint).

New Settler Outpost between Bethlehem and the Palestinian village of Batir

In the beginning of September, a new settler outpost was erected just west of Route 60 on land belonging to a Palestinian family. The outpost is located in the midst of a large agricultural area known as Al-Makhrour which stretches westwards from Beit Jala to the Palestinian village of Batir.

Two earlier attempts, in December 2018 and April 2019, to establish the outpost in Al- Makhrour were blocked by the Israeli military, however, this time around, the military allowed the settlers to fence off an area of the land and set up a mobile home. Establishment of the outpost followed close on the heels of the demolition of a Palestinian home and restaurant in Al-Makhrour on August 26, an area located just 70 meters away from the new outpost. The Palestinian family purchased the land in the 1960's and has since resided there for decades.

Himanuta, a company owned by the Jewish National Fund, who claims to own the land where the demolition was carried out, also claims ownership of the plot where the new outpost is located and consequently leased it to the settlers in spite of having never laid claim to the plot prior to the outpost's establishment.  The company likewise asserts that it owns six more plots of land in the area. Shlomo Ne'eman, chair of the Gush Etzion Regional Council voiced his support for the outpost, while the Regavim settler organization recently campaigned against "illegal Palestinian takeover of land" in the vicinity.

The new outpost carries severe implications for its surroundings – an extensive Palestinian agricultural area, which is intensively cultivated. These may include potential limitations on Palestinian access to their agricultural lands as well as to the road between Bethlehem and Batir which passes through Ak-Makhrour due to either possible settler violence or restrictions imposed by the army for "security reasons." Settler organizations are likewise likely to attempt to expand the area currently controlled by the outpost and increase its number of settlers. Not only would this contribute to the erosion of the Palestinian presence in the area, but it would essentially bifurcate the contiguous Palestinian space with an Israeli settlement between Bethlehem and the Palestinian villages to its west up to the Green Line.

According to the Kerem Navot NGO which monitors settlements, the Israeli Civil Administration has marked considerable areas in Al-Makhrour as "state land" which is being specifically targeted by the government and settler groups for establishing a new settlement.

Opening of National Park on Al-Walaja Lands and Renewed Attempts to Relocate Al-Walaja Checkpoint, Blocking Village Residents from Agricultural Land

On October 13,  the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) announced the opening of the Ein Haniya spring for exclusively Israelis over three days during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (October 15-17). Ein Haniya is a large spring located in the center of 1,200 dunams of Al-Walaja lands, which the Separation Barrier cuts off from the Al-Walaja village. In 2013, these lands were subsequently declared a national park by Israeli authorities known as Nahal Refaim.  

While the Barrier physically isolates Al-Walaja from its surroundings, the Nahal Refaim National Park further insulates the village and serves the role of “touristic settlement,” creating contiguity between Jerusalem and Har Gilo (along with its planned expansion), one of the settlements in the Gush Etzion Regional Council.

Since the beginning of 2018, the Ein Haniya spring and surrounding area had remained fenced off by the INPA, closed to both Israelis and Palestinians. Yesterday's opening of the spring for solely Israeli visitors constitutes the first time Israeli authorities officially invited the Israeli public to visit the site. On the first day of its opening, hundreds of Israeli tourists and sunbathers, who would otherwise not venture into the Al-Walaja area, flocked to the site, creating the illusion of an entirely Israeli space.  

As a means of completely sealing off Al-Walaja lands from the village's residents, Israel likewise intends to relocate the Al-Walaja checkpoint situated between Jerusalem and the village. Construction to relocate the checkpoint began in February 2018, but has been suspended since March of the same year. However, according to a local Jerusalem newspaper, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry recently requested the Ministry of Transportation to allocate funds for the relocation of the checkpoint - an indication that work on the checkpoint could resume soon.

While the new location for the checkpoint – 2.5 kilometers closer to Al-Walaja – will not be positioned beyond the Green Line, its relocation will entirely block Al-Walaja residents' access to the 1,200 dunams of their agricultural land which is located beyond the Green Line, but left on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier.

Demolitions in Al-Walaja

Parallel to the aforementioned developments to further disconnect the residential area of Al-Walaja from its surroundings and create an isolated enclave out of the village, there has been a series of demolitions, reinforcing the pressures leveled at Palestinians in the area.

  • On October 3, Israeli authorities uprooted roughly eight olive trees and demolished farming equipment, a large water tank and watering system in a plot located on "national park" lands separated from Al-Walaja by the Separation Barrier. On September 20 and October 11, the landowner was detained on his plot by border police, accusing him of illegal entry since he holds a West Bank ID, but owns land located in East Jerusalem. Over the past few weeks there have been several other instances of arresting Al-Walaja farmers or ordering them to leave their lands. These arrests are a new phenomenon, underscoring Israeli intent to transform the area into an Israeli tourist and recreational destination.
  • On September 16, two homes were demolished in Al-Walaja. Since 2016, Israel has accelerated the issuing and carrying out of demolitions in the northern part of Al-Walaja, which was annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 and subsequently separated from the city by the Barrier in 2010. Israel refuses to grant building permits in this area, driving many area residents to build without permits. Approximately fifty housing units currently have pending demolition orders issued against them. A number of families whose homes are at risk of demolition appealed to the Israeli High Court to instruct the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to review an outline plan for the village. The appeal is waiting to be discussed and has so far delayed execution of the demolitions for those included in the appeal.

Please address all inquiries to:

Amy Cohen

Director of International Relations & Advocacy

Ir Amim (City of Nations/City of Peoples)


Tel – 054-673-1231


Website: http://www.ir-amim.org.il/en




Funded by the European Union

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Ir Amim and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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