Silwan is one of the largest Palestinian villages in occupied East Jerusalem and is strategically located immediately south of the Old City of Jerusalem. It has a population of 55,000 and is built on 5,640 dunums (1,410 acres) of land. Following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the people of Silwan were subjected to a range of Israeli occupation policies that have continually increased to today, including the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements, home take-overs, demolitions, excavations, almost nightly raids and child arrests. This media brief focuses on key developments in the creation and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the heart of Silwan.
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS AND THE JUDAIZATION OF SILWAN
As part of Israel's colonial enterprise, Israeli settler organizations have consistently sought to expand their control over Silwan through various of means. One of the most common colonial tactics Israel implements in Silwan is the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes so as to replace them with Israeli Jewish families. Ateret Cohanim and El’ad are two right-wing Israeli settler organizations leading these illegal campaigns with full backing from the Israeli government. El’ad is also one of the sole beneficiaries of the U.S.-based charity the American Friends of Ir David Foundation, receiving the majoring of its funding from the American organization while enjoying a quasi-statal status in Israel and enjoying tax-exempt status in the United States. 1
As a direct result of these two organizations’ systematic campaign of forcible transfer of the local population while carrying out the Israeli government’s policies to Judaize Jerusalem, the people of Silwan struggle daily to protect their presence and preserve the town's heritage against sustained settlers attempts to colonize and Judaize Silwan, while cleansing the village of its indigenous, Palestinian native population.
The government of Israel has provided settlement organizations with political, legal and procedural support to expand illegal settlements throughout East Jerusalem, especially Silwan. This is done by creating discriminatory legislation to legalize the illegal, such as the Custodian of Absentee Property Law, the Planning and Construction Law, and supporting Jewish property claims prior to 1948. Discriminatory legislation combined with Israeli military protection is the backdrop against which settler organizations have taken over 39 residential units in Silwan, creating settlement posts in which approximately 400 Israeli settlers reside. Each settlement post consists of one or several residential units, spread throughout Silwan in the following neighborhoods: six units in Al-Hara Al-Wusta, 28 in Wadi Hilweh and Harat Baidun, two in Al- Farouq, one in Ras Al-Amud, one in Al-Thuri and one in Wadi Al-Rababa.
Moreover, the Israeli authorities have continually sought to create a number of tourist and public settler establishments in Silwan with the purpose of eliminating any non-Jewish historical narrative or connection to the land. The Ir David tourist center at the entrance of Silwan, also known as the City of David, is a case in point. The center provides tours and briefings for millions of tourists annually that negate Palestinian presence and rights, past and present. A number of projects that further consolidate Israeli colonial control over Silwan have also been approved by the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality, including the King's Garden and the Kedem Compound, among others. The King's Garden settlement project is a planned Israeli settler community in the Al Bustan area of Silwan, which currently houses approximately 1,000 Palestinians. 2 This has directly threatened the Palestinian population with home demolitions and forced displacement. The Kedem compound is a settlement project to build an 8,400m2 visitor's center in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, immediately adjacent to the Old City walls. The center is slated to house a museum, meeting halls, parking lots and offices for the El’ad settler organization. 3
Israeli policies and escalating practices in Silwan aim not only to alter the historic character of the area and to consolidate Israeli control over the Old City of Jerusalem (in particular Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound) but also contribute to the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
CASE STUDY: SETTLEMENT EXPANSION IN BATIN EL-HAWA AREA OF SILWAN
Batin El-Hawa is located in Al-Hara Al-Wusta (central quarter) of Silwan. The settler organization, Ateret Cohanim, has claimed proprietorship of strategic land parcels covering an area of 5,130m2. 4 The organization also claims that the land and the buildings on it belong to a Yemenite Jewish endowment. Yemenite Jews lived in the area during the Ottoman era only to leave immediately following the breakout of Al-Buraq Revolution almost 100 years ago. At that time, the Yemenites leased the land and homes to Palestinians from Silwan who have continued to live on and use the land ever since. Some 500 Palestinians currently live in the area.
Since 2002, Ateret Cohanim has filed 10 lawsuits against 250 Palestinians living in 44 homes in Batin El-Hawa and is expected to file 11 additional lawsuits against families in the remaining homes in the area. Ateret Cohanim claims that a synagogue was built somewhere in the Batin Al Hawa area and seeks to evacuate the Palestinian families and place Israeli settlers in their stead. Affected families include Al-Rajabi, Al-Silwadi, Basbous, Abu Nab, Sarhan and Dweik. The legal battles are ongoing for the majority of homes, however in May 2015, Ateret Cohanim forcibly evicted the home and family of Taher Abu Nab. Recently, the Israeli authorities delivered an eviction order to the family of Sabri Abu Nab, ordering the family’s expulsion from their home no later than 11 August 2015. This followed an Israeli court ruling that the home was to be handed over to Israeli settlers on the basis that in the late 19th century, it was Jewish-owned. 5
Concurrently, residents reported that there have been different forms of extortion exercised against them to force them to evacuate their homes, including bribery or the sudden and arbitrary imposition of fines for petty municipal offences by Israeli authorities.
Sit-in Tent in Batin El-Hawa
The families of Batin El-Hawa set up a permanent sit-in tent in their neighborhood as a symbolic rejection of these illegal policies, both to assert their presence in their homes and as an effort to protect and support three Abu Nab family households facing forcible evacuation from their homes at any time. Sabri Abu Nab explains: “The residents of the neighborhood gather everyday near our home in the sit-in tent. The neighborhood committee has decided to set up the tent to thwart attempts by Jewish settlers to take over three homes that belong to our family based on a decision from an Israeli court.”
- 1. Washington Post, “You, American taxpayer, are helping to fund Israeli settlements”, October 14, 2014.
- 2. http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_protection_of_civilians_2010_02_25_english.pdf
- 3. Haaretz, “Israel Approves New East Jerusalem Visitors’ Compound, Razes Palestinian Community Centre”, February 13, 2012 (4) Land parcels 95 and 96.
- 4. Land parcels 95 and 96.
- 5. http://peacenow.org.il/eng/AbuNab2 (the ruling has not yet been enforced)