Silwan's Palestinians Displaced By Construction Of Israeli Archaeological "Park"
Residents of the Palestinian village of Silwan just outside Jerusalem's Old City continue to be bombarded by the increased activity related to the City of David National Park excavations. The so-called "National Park" is, in fact, a series of archaeological digs owned and operated by the extremist settler movement Elad. While a private entity, the Israeli group receives support from the Jerusalem municipality, along with funding from undisclosed sources.
The group's ultimate goal is to turn the Silwan area into a Jewish enclave, and it is using archaeology as an instrument to further its political agenda. Indeed, Elad spokesman Yigal Kaufman told The New York Times in a June 8, 1998 interview: "Our aim is to Judaize East Jerusalem. The City of David is the most ancient core of Jerusalem and we want it to become a Jewish neighborhood."
According to a Sky News report, engineers are digging tunnels to uncover what Israeli archaeologists believe is an ancient road connecting the City of David to the Western Wall inside Jerusalem's Old City. This reporter viewed current construction of four tunnels in the area. In order to realize the plan to create a tourist destination evolving around the excavations, an estimated 1,500 Palestinian residents will have to be removed, along with their homes. Presently there are some 400 Jews living in the Wadi Hilwah neighborhood that is home to 5,500 Palestinian Muslims.
"Two homes have been destroyed already, but there are an estimated 120 more to be demolished," Silwan resident Amin Jodeh told the Washington Report on a Sept. 20 visit. Additionally, Jodeh said, more than 40 houses in the area have suffered settling and structural failure so severe that they are uninhabitable.
Local residents have mounted several protests to stop the activity and have established the Wadi Hilwah Information Center--along with two solidarity tents--to provide information and hold gatherings and meetings. Protesters oppose the plan to remove non-Jewish residents in order to promote tourism that is beneficial to a private settlers' organization and its political agenda of Judaizing a Palestinian village. Already, the original street name, Wadi Hilwah, has been changed to City of David Ascent.
In February, a classroom in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Girls' School at the top of the valley collapsed and injured 14 children when they fell into a 6-foot- deep hole. The cause of the collapse was suspected to be from tunneling under the school. The Aug. 10 collapse of a section of a main road in the Silwan area was also believed to be due to the underground excavations for the park project.
Silwan, with a population of 55,000 Palestinians, is part of East Jerusalem, which is considered occupied territory under international law and by the international community.
Evicted Palestinian Family Lives in Street--Israeli Settlers Move In
"My family will remain living on the street so the whole world can see what they have done to me and my family," Khaled Al-Ghawi told the Washington Report in a Sept. 15 interview. In the early morning hours of Aug. 2, his extended family was forcibly removed from their home of 53 years by several hundred heavily armed Israeli police in riot gear and thrown out on the street, where they have lived ever since. An hour after their forced removal, a group of Israeli settlers took possession of the Al-Ghawi family home along with a contingent of police to guard them.
Al-Ghawi recounted his family's horrific experience as he and his family sat under a plastic blue tarp which serves as their makeshift shelter on the sidewalk across from their former home in the Sheikh Jar-rah area of East Jerusalem. Eight-month-old Anas sat in his stroller and two-year-old Sara played peacefully on the asphalt street under the shelter, oblivious to her family's plight. Once, Sara walked over to her former home in the hot sun and climbed the outside stairs with a playful look back at her family's new home near the sidewalk.
During our discussion, the gutter that runs through the family's shelter became flooded when a large truck from the municipality began to pump out effluence collected from other parts of the city. The foul water was transported to a sewer above the area for disposal and the excess streamed down hill, flooding the shelter.
As the family hastily moved to avoid the filth, Al-Ghawi described it as just another of the daily indignities he and his family have faced since their forced eviction. Over the weeks since their expulsion, the Jewish settlers who dispossessed the Al-Ghawis have verbally and physically assaulted the family, he said, throwing rocks from his former home in a bid to dislodge him and his family from their shelter. Since a restraining order sought by the settlers against them was not granted, the family is allowed to "legally" live in the street.
The story of the families living in the 28 houses which were the subject of the evictions goes back to the establishment of the homes in this area of Sheikh Jarrah in 1954, when the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) created the plots for those displaced by the 1948 war. In 1956 an agreement with the families stipulated that the Jordanian government would not charge the residents rent for their housing units. Then, in 1966, the Jordanian government decided to transfer ownership to the residents for the one-time fee of 300 Jordanian dinars. However the 1967 war interrupted the transfer, leaving the residents without clear title to their homes. Since that time the courts have heard many cases related to the properties and to the residents' status. The court denied Al-Ghawi's appeal of the eviction decision. "Palestinians never win in Israeli courts," he explained.
Despite the many ups and downs of their existence, the family is firmly entrenched in its determination to stay put as a symbol of resistance and to defy the illegal and technical arguments that have put them on the street. They have demonstrated their resistance in part by painting nine portraits of Naji Al-Ali's cartoon icon, Handala, on a nearby wall.
Phil Pasquini is a free-lance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Pasquini, Phil. "The judaization of East Jerusalem." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Dec. 2009: 16+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Dec. 2009.
Gale Document Number:A212944260
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