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In Silwan, the settlers are winning - big time

Seven years of struggle and Silwan’s residents can’t claim even one tangible and clear victory. Not one home has been returned to its original residents, not one settler has left and the police and Israeli authorities continue to target Palestinian residents.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is seen from a protest tent built by local activists, March 3, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is seen from a protest tent built by local activists, March 3, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan got its first-ever community center, Madaa, in October 2007. At the same time, a diverse group of activists, primarily Jerusalemites, began a number of types of actions and struggles for the future of the village of Silwan and, it must be said, for the future of the entire region. Among others, our organization — Emek Shaveh, a group of archeologists whose activities primarily focus on settler organization Elad’s use of the “City of David” archaeological site — came into existence. Over the years, different groups of Israelis appeared and were active in the village for various periods. All of the Israeli organizations included tours for the wider public, and  legal and activist struggles against settlers and in cooperation with the Palestinian residents.

Read more: Settlers take over homes in dead of night

Seven years after the Madaa center was established and just a few days after the settler takeover of 25 apartments in the village put Silwan back into the news is as good a time as any for a little reflection. Maybe it’s also related to Yom Kippur — the Jewish day of atonement. In times like these, when the right wing in Israel succeeds in altering reality on the ground, it would be good to write about our successes and to raise morale. And there is no small number of successes, from halting or delaying settler takeovers by blocking their entrance into certain homes, and primarily by raising public awareness of Silwan’s story. To reminisce fondly, however, would be to lie to ourselves.

A demolished Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, march 14, 2009. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A demolished Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, march 14, 2009. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

After seven years of activism and struggle in Silwan, the settlers are winning — big time. The biggest losers so far are the Palestinian residents, and especially those activists standing front and center in the struggle for their homes and identity. Seven years of struggle and Silwan’s residents can’t claim even one tangible and clear victory. Not one home has been returned to its original residents, not one settler has left Silwan and the “City of David” archaeological site is only becoming a stronger national tourism destination. More so, among the Palestinians, some of them lost their homes, some have been persecuted and arrested by the police based on various accusations, some of them have lost their sources of income and some have been physically harmed. Some of them have been harmed in more ways than one. But the common denominator among everyone is the feeling — or maybe the knowledge — that they are still being oppressed by the authorities and the settlers.

The struggles in Silwan take place in very low resolution: every house, street, archeological excavation or tunnel dug is part of the political battle and affects the residents’ lives. It’s very difficult to understand the political significance of every action or project like this. But when you connect all of the various dots in Silwan it becomes clear that it’s all related. The houses, the excavations and the tunnels are part of one goal: building the Israeli “City of David” in place of Palestinian Silwan. It appears that the difficulty in grasping the details permits the settlers to continue advancing their various plans and to claim that the efforts and goals are not one and the same.

Read more on Silwan: ‘Israel’s very own tunnels of dread’

Clashes between Palestinian residents of Silwan and Israeli riot police, March 11, 2011. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Clashes between Palestinian residents of Silwan and Israeli riot police, March 11, 2011. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

While the settlers are persistently operating according to a well-formulated plan, we can’t seem to formulate any long-term resistance and focus on the little things. Sometimes it seems that the desire to see the big picture, the same long-awaited peace that will supposedly separate us from the Palestinians and from their tragedies, is our biggest distraction.

However, as long as the settlers continue to strengthen their hold on Silwan, talk about a better future is irrelevant and meaningless. As long as the lives and future of Silwan’s residents don’t improve, we are far from the basic conditions for even talking about any type of peace. Instead of talking about peace, we need to achieve smaller, local victories. Victory means returning homes to Silwan’s Palestinian residents, severing the cooperation between settler NGO Elad and the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, ending the archeological excavations, and ending government and municipal support for the settler group’s activities. We need to do everything in our power to support the residents’ struggle to live in their village on their own terms, with full rights and dignity.

The day that Silwan’s residents can look back and say that their struggle brought about victories, we’ll be able to start talking about faraway dreams like peace and future plans for the region. Then it will be just to call for peace talks based on recognition of the Palestinians’ historical rights to their land. And if that day does come, do not forget that the other guys will also keep fighting — just like they have been doing while you were reading this article.

Yonathan Mizrachi is an archeologist and one of the founders of Emek Shaveh.

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    1. Danny

      It’s becoming clear that this type of settler encroachment into Palestinian areas, the take-over of their properties through dubious and flimsy legal machinations, with massive police and army support is a part and parcel of Israel’s long-term objective of Judaizing area C while decreasing its Arab population.

      This is nothing short of a creeping ethnic cleansing, a silent transfer of the Palestinian population. We must fight Israel tooth and nail. We mustn’t let it succeed in its nefarious plans.

      Yonathan – what can we do to stop this?

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out, Arabs have been buying properties in West Jerusalem and he is not going to tell Jews they cannot buy property in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish state. Jews have the right to live anywhere in their capital.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Whiplash

      “The biggest losers so far are the Palestinian residents”

      Let us look at this more closely. A willing seller in Jerusalem sells his land and building to a willing buyer. No one objects if the buyer is a Christian or a Muslim, but do if the buyer is a Jew.

      Now what is the problem here? In Canada the courts in the 1940s and in the United States removed restrictive covenants based on ethnicity or religion which barred Jews or other people from buying and residing in neighborhoods of their choice. Why do Palestinians claim a racist attitude that a Jew cannot live in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem?

      One has to ask why Palestinians would be losers to have Jews as neighbors. Would the presence of Jews cause property values to diminish? Would the Jews and their children bring pestilence and vermin into the neighborhood? Do Jews have cooties and never bath? Would the presence of Jews corrupt the morals of the Palestinians? Or horror of horrors maybe Jews might invest in the neighborhood and operate businesses and hire Arabs as workers thereby inflicting injury on the Arab mentality of superiority over Jews.

      There can be no moral or legal objection to Jews residing in any part of Jerusalem.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        “There can be no moral or legal objection to Jews residing in any part of Jerusalem.”

        Very well. Jews will live in every part of the city. And so will Palestinians.


        Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          Any Arab citizen of Israel can live in any part of Jerusalem he or she wants if he or she has legal title or a legal tenancy agreement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            No double standards, please.

            If a Jewish settler gets to encroach into private Palestinian property using flimsy legal justification (sometimes without any justification), often while the Palestinian family is STILL THERE, their property STILL IN THE HOUSE, their clothes STILL IN THE CLOSETS – then a Palestinian should have the exact same right to do the same to Jewish-owned property.

            Fair is fair, and right is right. But something tells me you’re not the type of person to play fair.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whiplash

            Jewish citizens did not encroach. They exercised a legal right to buy or rent property which was bought by Kandel Finance.

            If an Arab was to buy land from a Jewish owner in Acre or French Hill he would have the right to take possession of it in accordance with the law.

            I have read different versions of this story that have said the apartments were vacant and others that say they were occupied. If they were occupied by tenants I would be surprised if there was not a notice requirement and that requirment had not been met. Police will usually not enforce a right if proper notice has not been given.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            The family’s belongings were still in the house, even their clothes were still hanging in the closets. In my book, anyone who sells his home usually packs up and moves his stuff out before handing ownership to the buyer. That fact alone dismisses your “Kandel” bullshit out of hand.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            So what, I have had the sheriff evict non-paying tenants and in every case their belongings were still in the apartment or house. The fact that they did not remove their belongings in accordance with law, did not give them ownership or a right to continue to occupy the property.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Whiplash you take disingenuousness to the level of a new art form. You remind me of no one so much as Eddie Haskell in the 1960s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver.” Americans of a certain age will get what I mean. Unbelievable.

            Reply to Comment
    3. ***There can be no moral or legal objection to Jews residing in any part of Jerusalem.***

      There should be no objection to ANYONE living in what was once Mandate Palestine to live in ANY part that land, of their choice.

      But Jews are heavily being favoured to live where they choose over Palestinians. THAT’s the reality, no matter how much you try and sugar coat it. And you know that too: it’s what you desire.

      Reply to Comment
    4. bir

      Yonatan Mizrachi,

      I have two questions for you. One of the concerns you express in your work is the politicization of archaeology.

      1. Aren’t you doing the very same thing in your work?

      2. Why do you call Jews who move into this area “settlers?” First of all, whether you approve or not, your democratically elected government (a left wing one, to be precise) and High Court have both agreed this is annexed territory. Israelis who move here are “Israelis” not “settlers.” Second, as you yourself note in your writings, Silwan has grown considerably over the past decades and there are Arabs there who weren’t living in Silwan previously. Are they also “settlers” or does this nomenclature only applies to Jews? If so, why?

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        You are disingenuous, to be sure, but I’ll respond just so that a neutral party who reads your comment doesn’t mistakenly think that you are correct.

        ‘Why do you call Jews who move into this area “settlers?”’

        Because that’s what they are – people who settle on other people’s land without any legal claim to the land.

        ‘your democratically elected government (a left wing one, to be precise) and High Court have both agreed this is annexed territory.’

        Yes, and? In 1939, the democratically elected government of Germany said that Poland is annexed territory. It meant nothing then, and it means nothing now.

        ‘there are Arabs there who weren’t living in Silwan previously.’

        Even if this was true (which by and large it isn’t since Israel doesn’t allow freedom of movement to Palestinians), Palestinians should be able to move from village to village without the scrutiny or consent of Israel. Makes perfect sense.

        ‘Are they also “settlers” or does this nomenclature only applies to Jews? If so, why?’

        No, they are not settlers because their claim to their land is both legal and internationally recognized. Jewish settlers have no such legal claim, and their claim to the land rests on biblical mumbo jumbo and backed by jack-booted IDF thugs, which has ZERO international legitimacy.

        I hope that answers your questions.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Ownership is a mighty good claim. Or as Prime Minister Nethanyahu said:

          “The people of Israel are not occupiers in the Land of Israel.”

          They are the rightful owners. Palestinians should be happy that Israel shares its land with them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jonny

            “Ownership is a mighty good claim”. Unless of course you are Palestinian and then it appears not to be that good a claim at all, as the onwers of the land on which Netiv Ha’avot was built can confirm.

            Reply to Comment
        • bir

          Not only do you not answer the questions, your response is meaningless. I’m asking an archaeologist who appears to be knowledgeable and serious for his remarks.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Brian

      One of the most instructive things for me in visiting these “discussion” (trench warfare?) sites is the lesson in dishonesty: the capacity for dishonesty in the service of an overvalued idea (messianic racism and less “idealistic” aims that tag along and borrow from it). I find myself returning to this theme over and over on these boards. Dishonesty. Netanyahu, famous at this point in his life for this, is emblematic. But posts like not a few above exemplify this problem as well. All of you MUST, if you have a subscription to Haaretz, read this article by Sefi Rachlevsky yesterday:

      Netanyahu’s deceptive discourse forces Israelis to ask: What do we want?

      The choice of a messianic, racist, Jewish society is not yet accepted by most Israelis – so Netanyahu has made the tactical decision to conceal his present actions as a prolonged reprisal action.

      By Sefi Rachlevsky | Sep. 30, 2014 | 3:10 AM |

      Because Rachlevsky’s essay is about the struggle for Jewish identity, and about dishonest subterfuges employed in that struggle. It’s about the Children of Light versus the Children of Darkness. Jewish version. This is so important. You have to read it. If I would not violate copyright rules I would post the whole thing here.

      But here are two pivotal paragraphs (but you must read the whole thing):

      […] There is a symbolic aspect to Netanyahu’s focus on the UN and the fact that he does so in English. Gone is the talk of universal Jewish ideas about the family of nations, the Hebrew Ben-Gurionism of “oom shmoom” to dismiss the UN or “It doesn’t matter what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” Instead, we have the exact opposite: an identity that is dictated by others and presented as an endless reprisal action to the primary move of exposing gentile racism.

      Behind all of this is a great deceit. There is no greater success for Netanyahu than the repeated asking of the question, “What does he want?” and answering that all he wants is to remain in power. The truth is very different. After all, the settlement enterprise, that Kookian enterprise of Rabbi Dov Lior and Naftali Bennett, is entirely an Israeli choice — and from their perspective, a Jewish choice. It is an arrogant, messianic, racist choice by the “chosen people.” But since this choice of a messianic, racist, Jewish society, a society of extreme inequality, a society without borders, a society of settlements, is not yet accepted by most Israelis, Netanyahu has made the tactical decision to conceal this fact for now and to instead present his actions as a prolonged reprisal action, the response of the eternal Jewish victim to ongoing anti-Jewish hostility. […]

      Reply to Comment
    6. Gustav

      “One of the most instructive things for me in visiting these “discussion” (trench warfare?) sites is the lesson in dishonesty”

      …. of the Palestinian Arab apologists.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Gustav

      … the first bit of dishonesty, by Arab apologists is the pretence that the beginning of history is the Arab occupation of the village of Shiloah which Arabs renamed Silwan. The reality is that Shiloah was a Jewish village way before the Arabs were even heard of:

      “Biblical sources describe Shiloah area as “the waters of Shiloah go softly” (from the Gihon spring) (Isaiah 8:6) and “the Pool of Siloam” (Nehemiah 3:15) watering King Solomon’s Royal Garden and later a staging area for Jewish pilgrims during the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot wherein the spring-fed pools were used to wash and purify the supplicants who ascend the Great Staircase to the Temple Mount while singing hymns based on Psalms.”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Gustav

      In the mid 1800s, Jewish philanthropists purchased land in the Silwan valley to establish a neighborhood for Yemenite Jews. By 1884, the Yemenites had settled into new stone houses at the south end of the Arab village, built for them by a Jewish charity called Ezrat Niddahim.[34] Up to 200 Yemenite Jews lived in the newly built neighborhood, called Kfar Hashiloach (Hebrew: כפר השילוח‎) or the “Yemenite Village.”[34]

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        In the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, the Yemenite community was removed from Silwan by the Welfare Bureau into the Jewish Quarter as security conditions for Jews worsened.[36] and in 1938, the remaining Yemenite Jews in Silwan were evacuated by the British authorities.[37][38][39] According to documents in the custodian office and real estate and project advancement expert Edmund Levy, the homes of the Yemenite Jews were occupied by Arab families without registering ownership.[40][41]

        So much for the pretence of Arab apologists that Jews have no history in Shiloah.

        And their pretence that we are interlopers.

        And their pretence that WE are the usurpers.

        And their pretence that Arabs are innocent lambs who never harmed a single strand of hair on Jewish heads.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Lynn

      For all the pro-illegal settler posters, why is it that most Palestinians who originally came from Israel aren’t allowed to purchase, or in many cases re-purchase land they hold legal title to within Israel, and re-settle there?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kiwi

        Why do you expect Israelis to accept a people amongst them who did not want to accept them originally and who have been making war on them for the last 100 years? Would any other people accept such people?

        But since other Arab people kicked out just as many Jews from Arab countries, you should be concerned about those Jews as much as you are concerned about the Palestinians. Are you?

        Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        Lynn, there is a saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

        In the past Israel allowed 100,000 Palestinians to move to Israel from the Arab occupied territories pursuant to a family reunification plan. This plan came to an end after Palestinians who had been granted the privilege to move to Israel were involved in terrorist attacks and aided Hamas and other terrorists to carry out attacks in Israel.

        BTW Lynn can you tell me when the Arab nations are going to compensate the 850,000 Jews driven out of Arab countries following the 1948 war? Can you tell me why the Israelis were able to resettle the majority of these refugees who outnumbered the Palestinian refugees who had 56 Islamic and Arab states to help them resettle? Every Palestinian refugee could have been resettled in proper housing in the Palestinian territories if the Palestinian and Arab countries had wanted.

        The fact is that the Palestinians wanted to destroy Israel more than they wanted to provide good lives for their refugees.

        Reply to Comment
        • JohnW


          One may as well talk to a wall.

          You can’t reason with the Lynns of this world. The are intent on hating us. So they will always come up with this type of questioning which is equivalent to “when are you going to stop beating your wife …?”

          Why do they do it? Because it gives them a type of thrill.

          Reply to Comment
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