Silwan: Palestinian neighbourhood turns into a nightly warzone

AJ Staff

Al-Jazeera  /  October 25, 2021

Displacement, nightly raids, arrests, beatings, and harassment have taken their toll on Palestinian residents.

Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem Every night, the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan turns into a warzone as youths confront Israeli occupation forces, Palestinian homes are raided and ransacked, young men and children arrested, shot at, and assaulted.

During the day homes are demolished and residents displaced as the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality pursues its policy of Judaization of the occupied eastern part of the city to make way for Jewish settlers, a policy illegal under international law.

On Monday, the Israeli Supreme Court held a hearing for the Dweik family consisting of 26 members from the neighbourhood. They are fighting their eviction by the settler group Ateret Cohanim. The family continues to await a decision about the fate of their homes, which could determine that of other Palestinians facing displacement.

Roads in the neighbourhood are regularly blocked by Israeli forces, as cars are searched and drivers held while their licences and other credentials are checked in what residents say is a policy of collective punishment to “show them who is boss in the neighbourhood”.

On Friday night, violent confrontations broke out between Palestinian youths in the Beir Ayoub area of Silwan and Israeli special forces and border police.

Jewish settlements were targeted with fireworks while the youths were shot at with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas with some arrested and assaulted.

The sound of gunfire reverberated through the home of Nidal Rajabi as the acrid smell of tear gas wafted through the rooms, while from the veranda the sky lit up with fireworks aimed at the illegal settlements.

The tensions in the neighbourhood were palpable, but for the Rajabi family, it was just another “normal” night.

“This has become routine but we are still not used to it and it is still no less traumatic for us,” Suheid Rajabi told Al-Jazeera.

Ongoing demolitions

Nidal and Suheid’s butchery was demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality several months ago on the grounds it was built without a building permit.

He and several of his brothers were assaulted, arrested and jailed for several days when they protested the demolition and the destruction of their livelihood.

During other neighbourhood protests, their son Harby (18) was shot in the back with live ammunition and rushed to a hospital in critical condition.

He underwent several surgeries to repair the damage that had been done to his internal organs and struggled for a long time to walk properly afterwards.

Now, the Rajabis await the demolition of their house, which is home to several family members and their respective wives and children.

“I was fined several times by the municipality for carrying out the demolition of my butchery because I refused to demolish it myself, and for building it without a permit. I was also fined for not demolishing my home and for building it without a permit. But I refuse to demolish it myself and my family will not move,” Nidal said.

‘Allocated as green areas’

Palestinian homes are being demolished on an almost daily basis in occupied East Jerusalem.

Since 2005, residents of the al-Bustan area of Silwan have received warnings to demolish more than 100 homes for building without a permit, in favour of an Jewish settler organization that seeks to turn the land into a national park and link it to the archaeological City of David area.

According to Grassroots Jerusalem, a Palestinian NGO, both home demolitions and court-ordered forced displacements are tactics used to expel Palestinian residents.

Palestinian rights organization Al-Haq has said Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem make up the majority of the population, but “Israeli zoning laws had allocated 35 percent of the land area for the construction of illegal settlements by Israeli [Jewish] settlers”.

Another 52 percent of the land area had been “allocated as ‘green areas’ and ‘unplanned areas’ in which construction was prohibited”, it said.

Under Israeli law, if Jews can prove their families lived in occupied East Jerusalem before 1948, they can reclaim the land, but the same law does not apply to Palestinians.

Judaization of East Jerusalem

As part of the continuing Judaization of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, obtaining building permits for Palestinians is almost impossible while simultaneously illegal Israeli settlement is actively encouraged.

Between 2016 and 2018, just 21 of the 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction permits in Area C of the West Bank were approved by the defence ministry, or 0.81 percent.

According to a 2019 report by Israeli rights group B’tselem, there were several hundred thousand Jewish residents living in at least 11 settlements and Jewish neighbourhoods.

“The settler enclaves have been built in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods in these annexed areas with aid by the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality,” said B’Tselem.

The Israeli authorities recently announced plans to go ahead with 3,000 new settlement houses on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli rights group Ir Amim, which closely monitors developments in Jerusalem, recently reported that Jerusalem’s municipal committee had advanced plans for the construction of 470 homes in the existing East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev and scheduled a December 6 hearing for another project in East Jerusalem to build 9,000 settler homes in the Atarot area.

Last year, the Israel Land Authority published the tender booklet for the construction of 1,257 new housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement in southeast Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum downplayed the latest developments, telling media, “Nothing’s changed over the last few years. We are a city and we’re providing for our residents.”

Residents of Silwan, meanwhile, find it difficult to make a living with the continuing tensions and discriminatory practices in occupied East Jerusalem.

“I’m struggling with my business as profits have dropped severely due not only to coronavirus and fewer tourists but also due to restrictions by Israeli police in the roads,” said Jihad Aweida, who runs a little take-away food shop in Silwan.

“We pay high taxes, but as soon as there are clashes, the police block the roads and stop traffic completely, sometimes for hours and fewer people feel like coming to relax and eat in my little outdoor area,” Aweida told Al-Jazeera.

What Palestinians view as the deliberate policy of discrimination against them has left a new generation of angry Palestinians with regular confrontations with Israeli forces in and near Jerusalem’s Old City, with dozens arrested and beaten for defying authorities.

In a two-week period alone, at least 82 minors were arrested with a number of them 13-years-old and under, according to Jawad Siam from the Wadi Helweh Centre, a Palestinian group that monitors developments in East Jerusalem.

“The Israelis have lost control of the situation and this generation, while prepared to compromise, will not return to being cowed. The next generation will not be so compromising,” Siam told Al-Jazeera.

Because of the unpleasant situation of living in the warzone atmosphere of Silwan, and despite growing up there and his whole family living there, Aweida moved his wife and young daughter to the quieter East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina.

“I want some peace during the evenings for my family,” said Aweida.