Jerusalem is the epicenter of a decades long struggle. For Jews, it's politically important as their capital, a national and religious center, as well as symbolic of Judaism's revival and prominence. For Christians, it's where Jesus lived and died, and for Muslims, it's their third holiest site (the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque) after Mecca's Sacred Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet in Madina.
In June 1967, Israel occupied the city. On July 30, 1980, the Knesset introduced the Jerusalem Law, officially annexing it as Israel's unified capital. However, on March 1, 1980, UN Security Council Resolution 465 declared that:
"all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant (Fourth Geneva) violation....and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
On July 4, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICC) ruled that "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development (and) have been established in breach of international law."
However, nothing thereafter changed. Settlements expanded exponentially, including on stolen East Jerusalem land. Israel plans to Judaize it by replacing Arabs with Jews, law or no law, because unenforced ones are meaningless.
On November 7, Haaretz writer Nir Hasson headlined, "Full Haaretz expose/How the state helped right-wing groups settle East Jerusalem," saying:
Israel "used a controversial law to transfer East Jerusalem assets to the rightist organizations Elad and Ateret Cohanim without a tender, and at very low prices."
To date, Elad settled 500 Jews in 15 Silwan sites. Ateret Cohanim brought 60 Jewish families and hundreds of yeshiva students to the Old City's Muslim Quarter, an area they're determined to control.
In support, Israel transferred hundreds of assets to them, as well as millions of shekels for security, including surveillance cameras and fences that separate settlers from Palestinians. Authorities also licensed Elad to manage the historic City of David tourist site.
In 1992, the Knesset passed a law requiring all state agencies to hold public tenders on which any citizen may bid, with certain defined exemptions, including expanding agricultural areas and promoting tourism. However, Elad and Ateret Cohahim were "exempted from tender" for all 11 assets they got, authorities abusing the 1950 Absentee Property Law to do it.
It pertains to persons "who, at any time during the period between (November 29, 1947) and (May 19, 1948) ceased to exist," and no longer owned Israeli property legally. However, at least for some of the 11 seized assets, owners live in the West Bank, "which is not under the jurisdiction of Israeli law."
Attorney Shlomo Lecker, involved in one of the cases, said: "These are not people who moved to an enemy country. Instead, these are cases in which we've decided to annex property without annexing the people who left it. Thus, two attorneys general recommended that this law not be applied to East Jerusalem."
Ethnically Cleaning Silwan
Silwan is an Arab village adjacent to Jerusalem's Old City, extending along the Kidron Valley alongside the eastern slopes of Jabal al-Mukaber, another Arab community. Home to about 45,000 people, it's one of 28 Palestinian villages incorporated into East Jerusalem. For years, settler encroachment fueled controversy and conflict. So does the area's historical importance, archeology used for displacement to legitimize Jewish claims.
Excavations have already claimed large tracts of Silwan land. The militant right-wing settler group Elad, funded largely by US donors, controls them. Its web site tells its own version of history. It also conducts tours to convince visitors of its Jewish origin.
For their part, Palestinians are contesting, explaining their important history. Different versions fuel conflict, Haaretz writers Nir Hasson and Jonathan Lis, on October 12 headlining, "Life in Silwan: Unbearable for Jews and Palestinians alike," saying:
"The pattern of Jewish settlement (there) is unlike anywhere else, with some 70 Jewish families (around 500 people) in 15 locations, islands among tens of thousands of Palestinians. The resulting friction requires the presence of dozens of security guards and surveillance cameras."
Palestinians complain about their presence and heavy-handed police tactics. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel said settlers carry weapons, Jewish/Arab relations thus tense over shootings, deaths and arrests. Moreover, Palestinian homes are being demolished for planned parks, open spaces, restaurants, boutique hotels, and Jewish-only housing.
Al-Bustan is a Silwan neighborhood, across from the Jerusalem's Old City. Home to about 1,500 residents, they're threatened with displacement, the Municipality of Jerusalem claiming no permits were issued to build in areas designated for open space and a archeological park.
On February 22, 2009, they were ordered out in 72 hours to make way for expanding Israel's City of David archeological site, a Jewish heritage project involving removing Palestinians whose history goes back centuries. Residents contested their right to stay, the Al Bustan Popular Committee (BPC) working with lawyers in Israeli courts. Nonetheless, demolition orders are issued and in other city neighborhoods, part of Israel's systematic Judaization process.
In October, police posted notices on five Al-Bustan homes, calling them illegal and subject to demolition. In addition, BPC's leader, Fakhri Abu Diab, said "a large force of Israeli border guards ransacked the area, using homes as vantage points to fire tear gas canisters, stun grenades, and rubber bullets in all directions" after protests broke out.
Many Silwan homes have been demolished, many more threatened. Moreover, residents are regularly attacked, prompting protests and clashes. B'Tselem explained that East Jerusalem Palestinians face discriminatory housing and construction policies, forcing them to build without permits (on their own land), thereby subjecting them to demolitions. Protests, violence and arrests follow, children affected like adults.
On October 25, Palestine Monitor writer Charlotte Silver headlined, "Children The New Target In Silwan Ethnic Cleansing Campaign," saying:
Daily, "Jerusalem police and security forces have filled the streets of Silwan....patrolling (them) on foot and in cars. This past week alone," 23 residents were arrested, including at least six children, aged eight to 12. The charges are always the same - stone throwing, whether or not true. Yet they're arrested, detained, beaten, terrorized and tortured like adults. In some cases, serious injuries result, requiring hospitalization.
Defence for Children International/Palestine (DCI) Section Report
In October, DCI issued a Detention Bulletin headlined, "Mass arrests in Silwan, East Jerusalem," saying:
Information on the arrest of 17 Silwan children was collected, "although lawyers and fieldworkers for DCI-Palestine estimate that the overall number of children arrested....in October is considerably higher."
In recent weeks, confrontations between Palestinians and settlers, their private security guards, and police escalated. Further tensions erupted over plans to displace Al-Bustan residents for a recreation park. Children are always affected. Hundreds are arrested annually, some as young as or younger than 12. Nearly always it's for stone throwing, yet they're detained in violation of Fourth Geneva's Article 76, requiring minors be given special treatment, besides other provisions to safeguard protected persons.
In October, 256 children were arrested, aged 12 - 15. Prosecutions and detentions usually follow. Bara' R., aged 13, is typical. On October 13, he was arrested in Silwan for throwing stones.
"At around 5:00PM, (he) was standing in front of his sister's house with some friends when they were attacked by 10 men in plain clothes, who were apparently Israeli security forces. (He) then reports being dragged into a nearby mosque by the men. (They) started firing weapons and tear gas at people outside the mosque. Baha's hand were tied behind his back and his shirt was pulled up over his eyes to prevent him from seeing."
"A short time later, (he) was put in an Israeli military vehicle and kicked and slapped." He was then transferred to Al Mascobiyya interrogation center in Jerusalem for questioning. Baha confessed "because I was so terrified because they beat me when they arrested me and because I was alone in the interrogation room."
He was luckier than others. At 11:00PM, he was released and fined 5,000 shekels, about $1,400, a huge sum for poor Palestinians, perhaps too much to pay, meaning their property or possessions may be taken instead.
DCI/Palestine covered several other arrests. In all cases, children were accused of stone throwing. Their hands were painfully shackled behind their backs. They were dragged, beaten, forced to confess and sign documents in Hebrew, denied food, water and toilet privileges for long periods, and overall terrorized during interrogations. Some were fined and released, others detained.
On October 15, police and Silwan residents clashed. About 15 Palestinians were injured, including one child. Most were struck by rubber-coated bullets, able to cause injuries and at times kill.
"According to local sources, the confrontations took place after Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters at worshippers" during prayer time. Residents threw rocks in response. "In a related incident, Israeli border police officers physically assaulted and injured a man at a flying checkpoint erected at one of Silwan's entrances." He was taking his son to the hospital, suffering from pepper gas inhalation.
On October 23, DCI/Palestine sent a 14 page report to the EU Subcommittee on Human Rights on how Palestinian children are treated in detention. It highlighted "the continued use of ill-treatment and torture during the arrest and interrogation" process.
Other information included:
- international law violations;
- evidence that over 42% of children are held with adults;
- over half receive inadequate food, water and shelter;
- most are denied family visits during the first three months of detention;
- telephone privileges are prohibited; and
- most are subjected to torture and other forms of abuse.
A Final Comment
Israel's long range Jerusalem plan is total Judaization, making the city its exclusive capital, denying the Palestinians rightful claim to its eastern portion for its own. As a result, ethnic cleansing systematically continues, villages like Silwan targeted by home demolitions, dispossessions, and assaults against residents defending their land and property.
In some ways they do it creatively. In 2008 for example, when 88 houses were ordered demolished for a City of David archeological park, residents erected a large tent for prayer, meetings, children's activities, and community events. In October, Jimmy Carter met with village leaders in it. Last year, the Wadi Hilwah Information Center was established to counter settler propaganda with its own historical narrative.
Determined, sustained, organized resistance is the best antidote to repression and injustice, what Palestinians have heroically done for decades, including the men, women, and children of Silwan.
In her August 18, 2010 Palestine Monitor article, Elena Hogan's title described it metaphorically headlining, "When David Becomes Goliath." In fact, long struggles at times end that way. Why not in Silwan, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, occupation-free self-determination an achievable goal.
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|Allen L. Jasson|