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Silwan and the proverbial key

By Ted Belman

The Mount of Olives is located east of the Old City across the Kidron Valley. It offers a magnificent view of Jerusalem because its summit is 300 feet higher than the city. One can also see the Judean Hills as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab on the east side. It also demarcates the watershed.

The Dead Sea is twenty two miles away to the south east along the Kidron Valley. It is along this valley that water flows down to the Dead sea and pilgrims historically have travelled up to the Holy City.

The City of David in the Kidron valley includes Silwan which has about 14,000 Arabs residents and 500 Jewish residents. It is about 300 yards from the Old City. Silwan sits on a very important archaeological site. Many believe, or at least hope, that excavations there will uncover evidence of King David’s palace. The municipality of Jerusalem has developed plans to make this area into an archaeological park. These plans involved the demolition of 88 Arab homes all of which were built without permits. Beit Yonatan, also built without a permit, is part of this story.

The Supreme Court has ordered that Beit Yonatan be shuttered (boarded in) and Nir Barkat, the Mayor has refused to do it arguing that if he is forced to do it then he should be permitted to demolish 78 Arab homes for which demolitions orders have been issued. He argues the law should be enforced equally. Currently everyone is negotiating a compromise except for the leftist city solicitor who is opposing the Mayor.

In the nineteenth century this was a Jewish Yemenite Village. During the 1930’s Arabs began to settle the area. Before a single Arab family lived in Silwan (Shiloach) it was a thriving Yemenite village with 200 families and 5 Synagogues. Population at its peak prior to Arab riots and pogroms, which decimated the Jewish neighbourhood was 900 Jewish residents.

The last 35 families were “removed” by the British who were unable to protect the families or properties in August 1938. (British High Commissioner promises/hopes in formal letter to Jewish authorities that “Jewish refugees” will be able to return shortly !!!!)

Only 7 out of 657 Arab built homes in Silwan are legal. In 2004, 28 demolition orders were issued in “Kings Garden” and 77 demolition orders in Silwan. But they are not being enforced. “Kings Garden” is intended as a green zoned area of roads and historical parkland.

With that backdrop in mind, Media Central, organized a fact finding mission for about 25 international journalists. I went along.

First we went to the City Hall to hear a talk by the Deputy Mayor who was quite reasoned and balanced in her remarks. She assured everyone that the municipality didn’t want to evict so many people and preferred instead a compromise. She advised that the municipality wanted to develop Jerusalem according to a Master Plan and that Plan should be part of a Plan for Metropolitan Jerusalem. This practice would be inline with planning practices around the world that plan for metropolitan areas beyond the city limits. The present uncertainty prevents this from happening.

While there, I was astonished to see an architectural model of the city of Jerusalem which mirrored the topography of the area and had replicas of each building on the entire site. The whole model was about 100 sq meters in area.

The next stop was Silwan where we observed the houses slated for demolition and the beauty of the Kidron Valley. We went up to the roof top of Beit Jonatan where Daniel Luria, (1 800 300 036 ), the Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim filled us in as to when the area was settled and by whom. He was exceptionally good. Israel has provided private security for the residents because it is easier or cheaper than doing it themselves. We were told not to take pictures of anyone. One German journalist said that this together with the fact that there were no names on the apartment doors suggested “secrecy”. I metaphorically called him an idiot because obviously they were security measures.

Then it was the Arab’s turn to “inform” us. We walked to where about 6 of them were waiting to do the honours. They played the victim card over and over again. The children are afraid, we have to stay at home to prevent our eviction, we love our homes, that’s where we go after a hard days work to rest, of course we didn’t apply for permits because they wouldn’t be granted or the delay would be too long, the Jews want to Judaize the area, Jerusalem is an Arab city (they never once mentioned east Jerusalem) and Jerusalem is occupied. For them it was all about them as victims and not about the rule of law. I lost count of the number of times they repeated the word “occupied”.

I managed to get in a well thought out question. “You argue that you should be allowed to remain in your houses for humanitarian reasons, regardless of the law, would you give the same right to Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, most of whom were born there?”

They stood there agape and then after a few moments of discussion among themselves in Arabic, one said that the whole world wants the Jews to go so they should go. I thought what about the humanitarian aspect. Obviously, it applies only to the Arabs’

One Arab proudly announced that his house was built 70 years ago. I wondered what that has to do with anything and asked him if he too had a demolition order. “No” was he answer.

We then travelled to a home which had been ordered demolished. The owner complained that when he gets a bill for taxes it is in his name but when he got the demolition order his name was not on it. For him this was evidence that Israelis were inhuman because they made him nameless. He then produced the two documents and pointed out the missing name.

One astute journalist read the documents and pointed out that the nameless one wasn’t a demolition order, as we had been told, but an eviction notice. I then pointed out that the City doesn’t know who occupies the residence and therefor an eviction notice is directed to the tenant. But the tax bill goes to the owner.

Finally he brought out his deed and the proverbial key. Boy, was it a doozer. It was about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide and 3/8 inches thick. I should have taken a picture.

I talked with as many of the journalists that I could. About half of them didn’t want to hear what I had to say and were quite hostile. They have really bought into the Arab narrative and view the Israelis as oppressors.

Along the trip there were some very young Arab children sitting in an alleyway. The journalists couldn’t take enough pictures of them.

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