A group of Labour Councillors and members are out visiting occupied Palestine right now. Yesterday, they visited Al Walaja village:
Al Walaja is the village the Israelis are trying to close. The village is already almost completely encircled by an ugly eight-metre concrete wall and, unless the villagers win their court case, the last remaining 15-metre gap will be closed by this time next year, leaving the villagers only able to come in and out through a single checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers.
No one knows why this punishment is being visited upon the villagers. They have no history of violence. On the contrary it has been one of the most peaceful villages in Palestine. The Israelis say it is ‘for security’ but the real reason, in the villagers’ view, is that they just want to make life so difficult for them that they leave their village and go elsewhere.
Encirclement by the wall has already happened to a few villages on the West Bank and the consequences are known. At the more trivial end, villagers will not be able to have visitors without applying for a special permit. They will not be able to bring building materials through the checkpoint so they will not be able to mend their houses. At the more serious end the checkpoint will be closed, often at unpredictable times, and they will may not be able to reach the hospital just a couple of miles away. Some checkpoints open only briefly twice a day, at 5am and 5pm. This makes life impossible for children travelling to school and their parents going to work. The result is that men leave the village to work and return only at weekends.
Sheerin Al-Araj runs the village’s Popular Resistance Committee and a women’s committee who run the local community centre, with help from Oxfam. They are taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court but their expectations of Israeli justice are very low. Despite having a strong case, they expect to lose and they are already working hard to persuade families, or at least the women, to stay in the village once the wall is closed. If the women stay, the men will come back and the families will stay together. The key will be to find activities that can keep them economically active in the village – such as vegetable gardens, recycling, sowing.
More blogs to follow. If you are a Labour Party member and are interested in travelling to Israel and Palestine then get in touch!