European Union and UNRWA highlight partnership at village of Al Walaja

21 March 2011

21 March 2011
East Jerusalem

European Union Representative to the occupied Palestinian territory Christian Berger and UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi today signed an agreement between the EU and UNRWA worth EUR 40million, during a special visit to the West Bank village of Al Walaja. The funds will contribute towards the UN Agency’s human development work, such as education, health and social protection. The ceremony took place at the village‘s school and coincided with Mother’s Day, giving an opportunity for the local community to get together and for children and families to engage in fun activities.

The village of Al Walaja, 10km south of Jerusalem, is one of many communities in the West Bank badly affected by the route of the Israeli Barrier. Walking around the village today, the EU and UNRWA officials met residents and spoke to UNRWA’s field workers about the impact of the Barrier on the life of the community. They witnessed first hand how Al Walaja has been affected and visited UNRWA’s job creation project, which aims to mitigate its negative effects on the life and economy of the village.

Speaking at the UNRWA school later on, Grandi reflected on what they had seen:

“I am dismayed but sadly not surprised by what we have seen today in Al Walaja. A series of discriminatory practices by Israel has badly affected the life of this beautiful and vibrant community.

“Here in Al Walaja, we can see the great human development work that UNRWA is doing in our schools, against all the odds, with the help of our donors. And today, the EU, our biggest overall donor, has provided vital funds that will help us to protect the rights and livelihoods of refugee communities like Al Walaja.

“I want to thank Mr Berger for the EU’s unflinching support of our work here, and throughout the region.”

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Mr Christian Berger said:

"Today‘s event serves two purposes: to highlight the very real hardships faced by Al Walaja and other communities affected by the route of the Barrier and reaffirm the European Union‘s commitment to help them address those hardships.

"By providing this financial support to UNRWA, with whom the EU has a long-lasting partnership, we can bring immediate relief to many of the most vulnerable families. I had the opportunity to see for myself today the important work that UNRWA is doing here and I commend them for their commitment to make a difference in Palestine refugees‘ livelihoods."

"The EU is active in Al Walaja also with other community development projects designed to strengthen service delivery and help residents to pursue their rights and services," Berger added.

Speaking on behalf of the local community, village council head Saleh Khalifeh highlighted the fact that Al Walaja’s residents are refugees from over the ‘Green Line’, many of whom have had to rebuild their lives several times. He asked for support to improve the life of the village, and to stop the further encroachment on its land by the Israeli barrier.

The EU and UNRWA

The EU‘s principal objective in delivering support to Palestine refugees is to contribute to the just resolution of the refugee issue as part of a comprehensive settlement of final status issues. In doing so, the EU ensures that the essential humanitarian and development needs of the Palestine refugees are met. It delivers most of such assistance through its partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The EU has been UNRWA’s largest donor since 1971. The bulk of EU financial support is devoted to UNRWA’s core funding enabling it to provide essential education, health, and social relief services to Palestine refugees.

About Al Walaja and the Barrier

The village of Al Walaja, 10km south of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is one of many communities in the West Bank affected by the route of the Israeli Barrier. With construction around the village having begun, residents face the threat of destroyed livelihoods, increased poverty and dependency on humanitarian aid. Some residents face the prospect of their homes soon being totally encircled.

To date, just over 60 per cent of the planned 709km Barrier has been constructed by Israel. The presence of the Barrier has had a devastating economic, social and psychological effect on communities in the West Bank, and is one of the main triggers of further displacement for already vulnerable refugees. In 2005, the International Court of Justice concluded in an advisory opinion that the route of the Barrier was illegal under international law.

Many Walaja residents have lost access to their land and agricultural resources because of the Israeli-built West Bank Barrier. The current planned route of the Barrier will completely encircle the village. In 2004, private investors announced plans to build a new settlement on Al Walaja land, known as Givat Yael. According to the plans - leaked in 2009 - the settlement will expropriate 60 per cent of the remaining Al Walaja lands to build some 14,000 housing units.

In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel’s construction of the Barrier breaches international law. Despite the ruling, construction has continued, and to date 60 per cent of the Barrier’s planned route has been completed, with a further 10 per cent currently under construction.

Before the war of 1948, some 1,600 people lived in the village of Al Walaja. All of them were displaced by the war and ended up in the refugee camps of Shufat (Jerusalem) and Dheisheh (Bethlehem). Others moved to Jordan and Lebanon. About 100 villagers - 5-10 per cent of those who fled - settled on the Jordanian side of the Green Line, which became the new Al Walaja. Today, the population of ‘new’ Al Walaja numbers 2,040 individuals. Nearly all of these are registered refugees.

Further reading

Find out more about Al Walaja and the West Bank Barrier (PDF)

Read the story of Omar, a Walaja resident whose house is encircled by the Barrier

More testimonies from Walaja residents