Israeli settlements spread into once exclusively Arab neighbourhood
JERUSALEM // After suffering decades of neglect by Israeli authorities, the neighbourhood of Silwan in Arab East Jerusalem once again finds itself the focus of entirely unwanted attention — the target of creeping settlement.
Right-wing Jewish groups have been buying up Arab homes using middlemen or front companies, sometimes on false pretexts, with between 400 and 500 Jews now living in the once exclusively Palestinian neighbourhood of 50,000.
The latest arrivals last month increased the number of settler homes in Silwan from 19 to 26, said Majd Gaidh, 23, who helps run the Wadi Hilweh information centre that provides information about the lives of the Palestinian residents of Silwan.
“A busload of settlers arrived during Yom Kippur in the middle of the night,” he said. “We are shocked, we feel like they will take more houses under the absentee laws which allow them to take houses that haven’t been lived in.”
According to Mr Gaidh, the latest properties to be occupied were sold to an Israeli Arab resident of Tayibe, an Arab village in central Israel. According to Mr Gaidh the buyer allegedly told the families who sold their homes that they would be turned into schools for Muslim students.
Jewish settlement in Silwan is adding to Arab-Israeli tensions in East Jerusalem that have been rising steadily since an Arab teenager was abducted and murdered in July, apparently retaliation for the killing of three Israeli youth in the West Bank the month before.
Last month a Palestinian resident of Silwan was shot dead after his car ploughed into commuters waiting for a train, killing a woman and a child. His family denied Israeli claims that it was a terrorist attack.
On Thursday, fierce protests broke out after a Palestinian suspected of shooting a right-wing rabbi was shot dead by police on the roof of his home in the Abu Tor neighbourhood during an early morning raid. The killing sparked clashes that led Israel to temporarily close access to the Al Aqsa mosque, causing further anger.
Silwan is not a glamorous neighbourhood. The streets are littered with rubbish — there is no collection service — and there are no paved footpaths.
Fakri Abu Diab, head of the residents’ committee, said Palestinians in Silwan are discriminated against because they receive few services despite paying taxes to the Jerusalem municipality.
On the other hand, the new Jewish residents have been given upgraded sewerage systems and improved roads.
Like the nearby Al Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, Silwan is a highly contested area. The Jewish settlers are moving into houses on the higher slopes of Silwan and want to see the homes of Palestinian residents on lower slopes and level areas of Silwan demolished.
Some have already been razed.
Mr Abu Diab pointed to what looked like a rubbish tip — smashed kitchen units and a broken couch lay on top of a pile of rubble. But it is rubble that was until recently his Palestinian neighbour’s home.
The house was deemed illegal so the municipality demolished it, Mr Abu Diab said, then billed the family 80,000 Israeli shekels (Dh77,400) for the cost of demolition.
The destruction of Palestinian homes were welcomed by Jewish groups who are spearheading the settlers drive into Silwan.
Australian-born Daniel Lauria, is the executive director of Ateret Kohanim, a right-wing organisation that works to move Jewish residents in Arab areas of East Jerusalem claims the Palestinian houses in Silwan stand on what was once King David’s garden and therefore their claims to their homes are illegal.
“The mayor was going to destroy all of them and bring back a national park but he backed down due to the violence and pressure of the world.”
It was Mr Lauria’s organisation that helped nine Jewish families to buy and move into two houses in Silwan in the middle of the night last month. That came just three weeks after police escorted seven Jewish families past Palestinian protesters into newly acquired homes.
Asked if he felt uncomfortable living in a community where he was unwanted, Mr Lauria said: “It doesn’t bother me that I’m not wanted here.”
For Silwan’s Palestinians, their neighbourhood appears to be closing in around them.
“We’ve had a huge Israeli police presence here, checkpoints within the village and surveillance balloons and restriction of people’s movement. This has increased the tension and people start causing conflict,” said Mr Abu Diab.
Updated: November 3, 2014 04:00 AM