Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan

by Lindsey, Jerusalem team

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

55,000 people live in Silwan, a beautiful but run-down area of East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City. Its name comes from the Greek Shiloam whose pools are mentioned in the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and 2 Samuel, as well as in John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man.  It is perched precariously on steep slopes along both sides of the Kidron Valley, above the Gihon Spring. The upper part of Silwan is known as Al-Bustan and the lower as Wadi Hilweh.

Until 1967 the area of Silwan was an almost totally Palestinian Muslim area, under Jordanian rule.  The families here owned their properties since Ottoman times.  After the 1967 war, the area was annexed by Israel and it is the declared plan of the Jerusalem Municipality to have 75% of Silwan Israeli-owned.  To this end, illegal Israeli settlers are moving into the area, particularly at the end nearest the Old City. 

In a tour with Mahmoud Qaraeen, who works at the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and leads regular tours of the area, he describes the variety of ways Israeli settlers are able to move into Silwan. Some of the houses have been purchased using middle men so that Palestinians are unaware that they are selling to Israelis; some obtained by the forging of documents.  Most have been acquired by invoking the Absentee Property Law, a law which came into being after the Nakba of 1948 declaring that any Palestinian property which was empty for three years – or for which no documents of ownership could be produced – could be appropriated by the Israeli State.  Many Palestinians have no documents to prove their ownership.  Historically, land and property has been passed down informally through families.

Israeli settlements and archaeology in Silwan

According to Mahmoud, there are now 250 illegal settlers in Silwan.  Many Silwan residents have been evicted from their homes and 64% of the houses in the area are under demolition orders.  In 2013, 123 houses were demolished in East Jerusalem; many of them were in Silwan.

The biggest illegal settlement establishment in the Silwan area is the controversial City of David archaeological park, to be called the Garden of the King.   Some Israelis believe that this is the actual location of the biblical city of Jerusalem captured by King David over 3,000 years ago. The City of David Foundation (Elad is the Hebrew acronym) is dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs.

 

The excavations, however, which are still ongoing, have been carried out clumsily by bulldozers and some ancient Islamic remains have been carelessly destroyed. 

Adina Hoffman writing in the Nation in 2008 describes the methods used:

“As Rafi Greenberg (University of Tel Aviv professor of Archaeology explained during an alternative archaeological tour) the digs in Silwan are being conducted in the most tendentious way–with bulldozers clearing huge areas in haste and multiple levels being dismantled in a race to get to “Jewish” bedrock. Settlers build houses right on top of relics, and extremely tenuous conclusions are being drawn on the basis of nationalist ideology and a literalist reading of biblical texts, not the actual shards and stones that turn up in the course of the digging. Historical cross sections aren’t being preserved. Instead of the usual timetable for a dig-with one season of excavation followed by months in the lab-the City of David excavations are taking place year-round, straining professional standards and leaving no time for careful analysis.

It is, says Greenberg, ‘bad science.’”

Life in Silwan

In Silwan, the roads are pot-holed and narrow like a refugee camp and the neighbourhood itself is greatly overpopulated. Palestinians residing in Silwan are plagued by poor infrastructure. Even though East Jerusalemites pay 47% of the city’s municipal taxes they receive a mere 5% of the revenue back in benefits.  There is no secondary school, no post office and the small number of green spaces they had have been appropriated by Elad and named as archaeological sites, off-limits to Palestinians.

Mahmoud Qaraeen says that the Silwanis feel that they are constantly under scrutiny from the Israeli police and army.  There are more than 550 CCTV cameras around the area. There are many night raids and child arrests. Both children and adults are frequently assaulted and abused by settlers, the settlers’ armed guards and the Israeli army. There are not enough school places for the children of Silwan and the school dropout rate is 65%, compared to 52% in Jerusalem as a whole.

 

Overcoming difficulty with creativity

In 2007, the residents of Silwan decided to take matters into their own hands  and, with mostly European funding, established the Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, as a means of non-violent resistance.   Here women can do courses in cookery, sewing and life skills and children can learn music, dabke dancing, drama and art.  It started small but has grown and now has after- school activities for the children, including a computer room and a well-stocked library.  More than 200 children per week participate in the activities here and it also provides a safe place for adults to meet and talk.

Life is still hard for children in Silwan.  In 2012, Jawad Siyam the General manager of Madaa Centre, formed a Children’s Protection Committee. It came as a result of the frequent assaults and abuses of children, who are often kidnapped and arrested in ways which flagrantly violate the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Room No 4 is a photographic project which was based on a Madaa report published in 2012: The impact of child arrest and detention.

Room number 4 is the room in the Russian Compound – the main Israeli police station in Jerusalem – where Palestinian Jerusalem residents, including children, are investigated.  The exhibition, which is based on real testimonies of children aged 7-17, deals with issues such as night arrests, investigating children without the presence of their parents and assaulting and threatening them.  It has been shown in various places in Palestine and Israel and also in Europe.

Children playing in Silwan.  Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Children playing in Silwan. Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

To return to Adina Hoffman’s account of the area, she reports on the Israeli plan to take over the area of Silwan:

“Most clever of all was Elad’s decision to fix on archaeology as the key to winning the hearts and minds of the wider Israeli Jewish public. Archaeology has, of course, long been something like Israel’s national pastime, a “scientific” discipline that, in this particular cultural context, has often blurred into the realm of major-motion-picture-scale mythmaking (see under: Masada). Since the early days of the state, archaeology has provided vivid settings and props that have helped Israelis both secular and religious to dramatize the stories they like to tell themselves about their historic bond to the modern homeland.”

Dig, popularizing ‘explusion disguised as archaeology’

In the last few weeks, Hoffman’s words have come to seem prophetic. NBC, which owns the USA cable network, has started shooting its Dig archeological thriller series there. Starring Anne Heche and Jason Isaacs, it will be broadcast on popular channels in the United States and has brought tens of millions of dollars in investment to Israel. It is based on the story of an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who is investigating the murder on an American archeologist at the Silwan excavations. NBC will receive a $6.5 million grant from the Israeli government, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, to make the series.  A film by Dave Lippman about the project calls it a celebration of ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology.’

The raising of Silwan’s profile by the presence of Hollywood is unlikely to make any positive difference for Silwan’s Palestinian residents. It is much more likely to give strength to the Israeli settlers moving into the area. As with many, many of the injustices of the occupation, the international community appears to be turning a blind eye.

In the gospel of John, Jesus takes dirt from Silwan and makes a blind man see.  Is it too much to hope that it can happen again?

The article Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan was originally published on our EA’s blog This Year in Jerusalem.

Our most shocking facts from 2013

A huge part of the work of an EA is actively engaging in monitoring and reporting human rights violations that they witness. We report these incidents to the United Nations and other local and international humanitarian and legal organizations so that they can provide the necessary assistance.  Many of these incidents find their way into the stories our EAs write on this blog and share back home as part of their advocacy for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Here’s an infographic summarizing EAPPI’s 2013 reports on human rights violations:

EAPPI Incident Reports 2013 Final

Is it acceptable to blindfold and arrest an eleven year old?

by Elina and Heidi, Jayyus team

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

Omar and Ahmed’s story

On 16 November the Israeli military went to arrest fourteen year old Ahmed. According to the military he and his friend Omar, eleven years old, had thrown stones at Israeli cars passing by. Because Ahmed was nowhere to be found, the soldiers decided to arrest his father. Two members of the Jayyus EAPPI team were present at the site to witness this arrest. As one of the soldiers went into the back of one of the armored vehicles, for a brief moment one member of the EA team was able to see Omar. He sat in the car with his hands tied and blindfolded. Omar is only eleven. He was alone. He was not accompanied by a parent. One of the EAs confronted the soldiers and pointed out that this is illegal, even according to Israeli law! The soldier looked the EA dead in the eye and denied that there was a child in the car and then drove away.

Ahmed’s family was told that the father of the family would not be released until they handed over Ahmed. With tears in her eyes Ahmed’s mother turned to his sister and argued that the military would anyway come at night to arrest Ahmed if they did not hand him over today. The sister wept. Ahmed himself, who returned home after the military had left, also looked really nervous when hearing he would have to face Israeli imprisonment.

Fortunately, both the boys and Ahmed’s were released from detention about an hour after Ahmed turned himself in. When the Jayyus EA team spoke with Omar, he explained that the  Israeli soldiers had neither hit him nor threatened him. When an EA team member asked him if he was afraid during the detention he became quiet and then denied being afraid. Then the adults in the room said that it is ok to be afraid.

Sadly, this is not a unique story

Under the current Israeli occupation Omar’s and Ahmed’s story is by no means a unique one. As EAPPI observers we have witnessed several similar cases that have led to the detention and imprisonment of a child for several months. Under the occupation Palestinian people, including children, are tried according to military law. Children over 16 years of age are considered adults before Israeli military law -responsibility before law starts at the age of 12. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” to be “every human being below the age of eighteen years”. Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli forces continue to be interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent, and without a video recording of the sessions.

The hardest thing to witness is the psychological damage and violence the occupation causes to Palestinian children and their families. Not only is this a violation of human rights and international law, but most importantly it is a disgrace towards human dignity. As EAs we have seen the sorrow of the families who cannot provide security for their children.  What kind of consequences does this have on the peace process?  What will the future look like, when it is built in this manner using tools of oppression, fear and humiliation? By hiding behind the law one can justify actions taken and continue breaking young minds, causing suffering for the Palestinian people, not just as individuals but for the community as a whole.

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Facts about Israeli military court and child arrests in the occupied Palestinian territory
(source Addameer.org)

  • 159 children were kept in Israeli prisons and detention centers on November 1, 2013. Fifteen of them are under the age of sixteen.
  • Israeli administration detention orders empowers military commanders to detain an individual without a charge for up to six month long renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security requires the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can then be continued indefinitely.
  • The current Israeli order of Criminal Code divides Palestinian children into three different categories – those under 12 are considered children, those between 12 and 14 are considered “youth” and those between 14 and 16 are defined as “young adults”. Palestinian children over 16 years old are considered adults before the military law while Israeli children age 18 and older are tried under Israeli civilian law.
  • Palestinian children continue to be charged according to their age at the time of sentencing, instead of their age at the time of the alleged offense, as required by international law. This practice enables them to be sentenced as an adult for an offense they may have committed as a child if they are unfortunate enough to be charged years after the alleged offense, or simply if they turn 16 while awaiting sentencing.