Palestine/Israel News and Information

Playing with fire: the Jerusalem municipality wants to demolish a neighborhood with 88 houses in Silwan village and to expel 1,000 Palestinian residents By Meir Margalit


Occupation Magazine

Translated by Mark Marshall

Original Hebrew:

31 May 2005

The Jerusalem municipality wants to demolish an entire neighborhood in Silwan village with 88 houses and a thousand residents, in order to expose an archaeological site from the days of David’s Temple. Even though the procedure is unprecedented in scale in this case, it is not a new story. Since 1967 the State of Israel has wanted to control not only the physical area of Jerusalem but also to Judaize the east of the city, to erase its Arab characteristics and to paint its entire face in Jewish colours. The subjugation of the residents and the annexation regime it administers is not enough for the Jerusalem municipality; it must also wipe the Arab presence off the face of the earth, if not physically, then at least the signs of its identity.

The village of Silwan stands on the front-line of the Israeli offensive to erase the Arab presence in the east of the city. Because of the site’s historical importance, and because of its nearness to the Temple Mount [the Noble Sanctuary – Haram al-Sharif], Silwan, or, as the settlers call it – Kfar Shiloah – has become the object of desire of right-wing elements who have set themselves the goal of redeeming the lands on which King David established his kingdom. Since the 1970s the State has been sparing no efforts to gain control of lands and buildings by any means possible through the “El’ad” society, and in the name of the State the latter enters into dubious deals that the State cannot enter into officially.

The plan to demolish all the houses in the al-Bustan area is part of the plan to gain control over Silwan, to cut it off from its residents and to Judaize the area. The official pretext, as has been stated, is its archaeological value for the Jewish people. Here Jerusalem begins, here walked King David, King Solomon and other Kings of Israel, and here are graves from the days of the First Temple.

The words were written in detail in an official document produced by the municipal engineer of Jerusalem in November 2004, and since it is an instructive document, it is appropriate to quote it in full in its precise language.

“Subject: evacuation of illegal houses in the King’s Valley. The beginning of Jerusalem is the tel in the City of David. In this tel and in its surroundings are archaeological remains from the past 5,000 years. These remains have great international and national value and they provide the city with its status as one of the important cities of the world.

“The King’s Valley, which is one of the important components of the Kidron Valley, constitutes, together with the City of David tel, a complete archaeological unit in which all the sites are connected and constitute an important component for understanding the whole that is composed of various parts and eras.

“Statutorily, since the beginning of modern city planning during the Mandate period, it was determined that the valleys surrounding the Old City (including the King’s Valley) would serve as open spaces.

“This approach was also encouraged by the Israeli planning authorities. In a municipal plan for the Old City and its surroundings that was prepared in the 1970s the guidelines for planning and development were set out, land use, street networks and detailed architectural guidelines for the purpose of conserving the character of the city within the walls and the whole area of the basin of the Old City. According to this plan the area of the King’s Valley was designated as an open public area.

“In view of all of the above I hereby order the removal of the illegal construction in the King’s Valley.”

This document contains within it the entire Jewish-Arab conflict in one page. Documents that thusly summarize in a nutshell the nature of the entire conflict from the beginning of Zionism to the present day are rare. The municipal engineer correctly represents the conflict between the two peoples as it is: a struggle between King David and Farhi Abu-Diab ˆ the Chairman of the acting committee of the residents of al-Bustan. The struggle is thus between the Jewish past and the Arab present, and in the meanwhile the future of both peoples is sacrificed. In order to expose remains from the First and Second Temple periods they are prepared to destroy the Third Temple* ˆ that of the local residents. The struggle is focussed on whose rights take precedence: those who lived in the area 3,000 years ago or those who live in the area today. The municipal engineer sings the praises of the antiquities buried under the ground while ignoring the life that teems above it. He uses only the Hebrew names of the site, as no village named Silwan existed, as if no human beings lived in it ˆ only archaeological remains.

However, despite all the lip-service he pays to the archaeological remains, let there be no mistake: what is under discussion here is not exposing the past, but a struggle for control in the present. If Jews lived in the area it would not occur to anyone to evacuate them in order to expose the past. There are two goals behind this dangerous process: one is to create a strip of Jewish neighbourhoods in the east of the city that starts in the Old City and includes Silwan (the City of David), Ras al-Amud (Maale ha-Zayit), Abu Dis (Kidmat Zion) and from it to link to the E-1 area and Maale Adumim. In this way they will break the territorial contiguity between the northern and southern neighbourhoods in the east of the city, they will isolate the Old City [of Jerusalem] from the rest of the cities of the Palestinian State when it is created, and render impossible any just solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict.

The second goal is the desire of the municipality to reassert its control over the east of the city after its residents began to show signs of impatience in the face of the intolerable hardships they have had to contend with since the second intifada. The wall that cuts them off from their families in the Territories, restrictions of movement, the economic crisis, property-tax debts that lead to confiscations and arrests, abuses by Border Guard police, unprecedented house-demolitions, inconceivably large fines, cancellation of residency and National Insurance social rights, erasure from the Kupat Holim [health insurance] registry, the forbidding of unification with spouses from the Territories ˆ all this changed the climate that characterized life in the east of the city and all this has started to leave its marks. Storm-clouds are gathering. The municipality is under pressure and if that were not enough, the demographic demon has raised its head and threatens to turn the Arabs into a decisive majority within less than a generation. All these reasons stand behind the hardening of municipal policy in all domains and also behind the attempt to wipe 88 houses off the face of the earth. Without understanding the struggle for control we cannot understand what stands behind this unprecedented measure. Because of this struggle all the limits have been breached and the municipality allows itself today what it did not allow itself over 30 years ago. The occupation has changed its face and today every municipal clerk has become a pyromaniac playing with fire who allows himself to pour gasoline on the fire of the bloody conflict between the two peoples.

This letter is destined to occupy a place of honour in the literature of the occupation. It is shameful and deplorable and verges on a crime against humanity. It is written in sterile language in the name of the law and universal values, but between the lines is concealed a racist and destructive ideology.

* The Hebrew word used for “temple” in this context also means “house”; thus the reference is also to the destruction of the houses of the modern-day residents of Silwan – trans.

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