This afternoon I went back to Walajeh to spend some quality time in the village on foot. Just a few kilometers west of Bethlehem, Walajeh is across the valley from settlements in southern Jerusalem and around the corner from the settlement of Har Gilo, which continues to expand and encroach on the town. The solution to this proximity, is, of course, to build a wall around Walajeh that will create a tight enclosure around the village, a Palestinian enclave in what was once Palestinian land. But, construction on said wall is not finished, so there remains some (small) hope that Walajeh’s fate may change. Numerous gaps in the unfinished wall make it easy to ‘cross sides’ so it’s also a very strange and interesting place to visit for this project. Today was the first and last time I walked on both sides of the wall in a single trip, much less a single hour or minute.
Standing on both sides of the wall like this was a powerful experience, and I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it yet. I felt exhilarated by the idea of being in two places at once, kind of like when you’re a kid and you get to stand in two states at once, or three, or four (maybe this is just me?). I also felt triumphant, like I had somehow outsmarted the wall and managed to do what it prevents by its very nature. But I was also frustrated, because this line that I stood atop of doesn’t mean anything! It does not correspond to the green line, international law, or municipal boundaries. This spot was just a green hillside until last year when bulldozers carved it into a flat road and covered it with gravel and concrete. It holds no significance beyond that which concrete and the muscle of men can lend. Alas! The joys and sorrows of a border-walking border-theory junkie.
This is a tunnel that runs under where the wall will be built. It will serve as a dedicated checkpoint for the people who live in the house in the picture below, which will be entirely cut off from the rest of Walajeh by the wall.
Right now, with gaps and no guards, the wall around Walajeh is not keeping anybody out or in. But mentally, it’s already working.
The settlement of Har Gilo is creeping steadily onto Palestinian land and so the wall is still under construction in Walajeh, a tiny village just west of Bethlehem. I’m hoping to go back again before I leave, but here are a few pictures of the wall there. It’s so odd to see it half-built. There was nothing to stop me from walking on both sides save a 6-inch concrete block that foreshadows the arrival of its bigger incarnation.