Further developments on the expansion of the Har Gilo settlement

The Higher Planning Council (HPC) of the Civil Administration decided to approve the plan to expand the Al-Walaja bypass road to promote the expansion of the Har Gilo settlement.

On 11 September 2022, the HPC approved the plan to expand the existing Al-Walaja bypass road (385) for the purpose of promoting and validating the expansion plan of the Har Gilo settlement. Following the plan description, the plan for a new neighborhood is, in fact, an entirely new settlement.

Peace Now: “This is a harmful and senseless decision that harms the chance for peace and a political solution. Moreover, this decision follows a series of plans in Jerusalem and beyond the Green Line that were designed with the aim of cutting off the territorial continuity needed in order tu build a viable Palestinian state.”

Plan for the expansion of the Al-Walajeh bypass road (385)

This is a plan for the expansion of the Al-Walaja bypass road (385) that aims to upgrade and adjust its transportation and safety measures to current standards, taking into account the population growth in the area. For the purpose of the road expansion, private lands from the Palestinian towns of Beit Jala, Al Walaja, and Battir will be expropriated from their owners.

Objections to the plan were submitted by some residents of Al-Walaja, next to the Har Gilo Settlement, who were affected by the plan to expand the bypass road. The objections were submitted by other organizations as well. After holding a discussion on these objections in June 2021, most were rejected. However, to approve the plan, some corrections and changes were required that were executed over time. Therefore, the decision to reject all the objections and to finally accept the plan was taken recently.

Plan for the expansion of the Har Gilo Settlement (401/4/1)

Har Gilo is a settlement lying beyond both the Geneva Initiative line and the West Bank territory Israel annexed to Jerusalem. It lies along an incomplete continuum settlement proponents have long worked toward to connect Jerusalem to the Gush Etzion settlements along Route 60. For Palestinians, Har Gilo has already all but severed the territorial connection between Bethlehem and the village of al-Walaja to its northwest, now solidified by the Israel West Bank barrier.

The expansion of the Har Gilo Settlement includes, in the first phase, 560 new housing units, doubling the size of the settlement. In practice, this new neighborhood is close but separated from the Har Gilo settlement. To reach this new neighborhood from the existing settlement, one would need to leave Har Gilo to the main road, so in fact, this represents the establishment of a new settlement.

The new neighborhood will supposedly be built on the other side of the village of Al-Walaja, adjacent to the Har Gilo settlement. The construction of a new neighborhood will block and suffocate the village completely. Currently, the village is surrounded by the separation barrier in three directions, and the building of the new neighborhood will block the village in the fourth direction.

Objections were also filed against the plan to expand the Har Gilo settlement after it was approved for deposit in October 2020 and published for deposit in June 2022. As it was written in the HPC decision, “a discussion on approving the Har Gilo plan is conditional on the publication of the approved plan for the expansion of the 385 road.”

During the last years, there have been struggles against the establishment of the new neighborhood, partly because of the fact that it is an area defined as a buffer zone for the ancient terraces of the village of Al-Walaja. This place was recognized as a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. In 2014 UNESCO declared an area of c. 2,756 acres (11,135 dunams) as a World Heritage in Danger site. The site is called “Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir,” and it is unique in its traditional farming, ancient terraces, and irrigation channels.

In addition, the residents of Al-Walaja oppose the expansion plan due to the fact that a new neighborhood will block them completely, and taking into account that, in reality, dozens of houses in the village are being destroyed by the Civil Administration, that does not allow them to build in their village. Ironically, the reason given by the Civil Administration is that building in this area is not permitted because it is necessary to preserve the area’s natural landscape and traditional agriculture. However, plans for settlers are being regularly approved. Read more about this plan, here.