Israel’s attempts to change the demographics in the occupied East Jerusalem is not limited to Sheikh Jarrah. In Silwan, a much bigger Palestinian settlement, Palestinians have been witnessing Zionist settler activities in tandem with Israeli government for decades now. In recent months the Israeli attempts to force the Palestinians, living in the area for generations, to migrate has increased and is expected to intensify in the coming months. Silwan presents a much more nuanced example of Israel’s judaization process in the old city with a clever use of religious symbols and myths.
Last month, Israeli forces used violence and injured at least four people protesting the demolition of a butcher shop in one of the localities of Silwan. In the same locality, al-Bustan, it forced a family to demolish their house threatening to charge them with a fine of 20,0000 shekels or USD 6,000 in case it fails to do so earlier this month. The Palestinian family was forced to spend the night in the open after the demolition.
13 families comprising 130 members were given 21 days to vacate their houses by the Jerusalem municipality on June 7. Israel claims that these houses were built without permits. However, the actual reason is realizing Israel’s plan to build a “kings garden” at the site. The families have been receiving demolition orders since 2005 citing lack of building permits or even claiming that the land belongs to Jews.
Israel claims that the area belongs to the mythical King David and wants to redevelop it with parks, tunnels and Jewish centers. If everything goes as per Israel’s plan, at least 7,000 members of 90 families will be displaced in Silwan.
Silwan and the myth of King David
Silwan’s importance in Israel’s larger judaization plan for the city lies in its location, its geographical features and its alleged links to the mythical King David. It is located just outside the southern wall of the old city near the Al-Aqsa compound. It is made up of around nine neighborhoods including Wadi Hilweh, Wadi al-Rababah, Al-Bustan and Batan al-Hawa. It has the only recognized natural spring in Jerusalem. The locality was originally not a part of the old city. It was brought under the Jerusalem municipality following Israeli occupation in 1967 when Israel illegally annexed 70,000 dunums of West Bank land and expanded the city’s territories into the occupied West Bank.
Since its illegal annexation, Israel has carried out various archaeological excavations in Silwan in order to establish links with ancient past and Zionist myths.The locality is full of historic monuments dating back to ancient and middle ages. Israel has claimed, without much scientific and archaeological evidence so far, that Silwan was the original location of mythical King David’s capital.
Given its proximity to the walled city, its water spring and historical importance for its founding myths Israel has eyed the locality as an essential part of the larger Zionist project.
A large number of Palestinians living in the area pose a great challenge to Israeli projects. The population of Silwan is around 65,000. Though most of them are refugees of 1948 Nakba, a large number also claim a much older residence.
In order to force the Palestinians out of the locality Israel has used all the tricks in the book. It has given free hand to two settler organisations — Ateret Cohanim and Ir David foundation or Elad. These organizations work to implement the Judaization of the city. They file lawsuits against Palestinian families, claiming that the land belonged to the Jews before 1948. These groups also carry out occasional raids of Palestinian houses using the excuse of absentee property laws. Since 2005, Elad, which is involved in the King of David city project, has claimed archaeological sites including ancient Jewish tombs are buried under the Palestinian houses and has been using legal channels to have them vacated. Originally there were around 90 homes identified to be demolished. Facing resistance, Elad reduced the number to 22.
Ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem
Israel has made sure that the majority of East Jerusalem is out of bounds for Palestinians as they cannot build houses there. Even in Palestinian localities it is difficult for them to get permits to build new houses or renovate the old ones. According to a report published in 2018, Palestinians got only 7% of all permits issued in the city to build new houses. Palestinian consists of around 40% of city’s total population.
Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Wali al-Rabab are some of the prominent examples of Israeli attempts to ethnically cleanse the city. There is no legal protection against refusal of the Israeli courts to accept the land deeds in some cases dating back to the Ottoman era.
Between 2004 and 2018, Israeli authorities carried out at least 98 demolitions in Silwan alone, leading to the displacement of at least 180 Palestinians. The total number of demolitions are close to a thousand. The pace of demolition has increased since 2019.
Israel has built massive illegal settlements in East Jerusalem just like in the occupied West Bank. Today there are more than 300,000 illegal settlers living in the occupied East Jerusalem. Israel has also promoted settlers to invade Palestinian dominated localities like Silwan. Today, there are 78 outposts in Silwan where around 2,800 Jews have lived illegally under heavy state protection since 1991. In some cases the individual settler take over the Palestinian buildings by force calling them “absentee property.” Israel has also incorporated a large part of the Silwan land with the massive illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank.
The resistance against ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
The UN Security Council resolution 476 of 1980 says that all Israeli measures “which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded.” However, the prolonged occupation means that Palestinians can no longer wait to undo Israeli acts. Palestinians have started using all means possible to resist the Israeli attempts to displace them. They do not hesitate to approach Israeli courts despite knowing well that it has no legal jurisdiction. They also take mass action against Israeli demolitions calling people on the streets as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah. The Palestinian resistance on the ground in Silwan is led by a land defense committee with representation from several organisations and a vibrant social media campaign under #SaveSilwan banner. The online campaign presses the international community to pressurize their governments to stop supporting Israel’s illegal acts.