Mondoweiss / June 9, 2021
For decades the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood in Silwan has been the target of a relentless campaign by Jewish settler organizations to forcibly expel Palestinian residents of the neighborhood and replace them with Jewish settlers — a process that is entirely legal under Israeli law.
By now, you’ve probably heard of Sheikh Jarrah and the struggle by the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents to save their homes from being taken over by Jewish settlers.
The fight to save Sheikh Jarrah has garnered international attention in recent weeks and has prompted widespread protests across Palestine and the entire world. But just a few kilometers away another group of Palestinian families are facing an almost identical battle.
Five kilometers away from Sheikh Jarrah, right outside the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem, is the village of Silwan.
Silwan lies at the heart of East Jerusalem, and is home to an estimated 60,000 to 65,000 Palestinians. It’s also one of the most heavily targeted areas in Jerusalem for Jewish settlement activity, and what rights groups have called Israel’s attempts to “Judaize” the city.
Just south of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan. For decades Batn al-Hawa has been the target of a relentless campaign by settler organizations to forcibly expel Palestinian residents of the neighborhood and replace them with Jewish settlers — a process that is entirely legal under Israeli law.
You’re probably wondering, how is this even possible?
In short, a right wing settler organization by the name of Ateret Cohanim has been seeking to forcibly evict some 100 families from Batn al-Hawa under the pretext that the land was previously owned by Jews more than 100 years ago.
Through a series of legal mechanisms sanctioned by the Israeli courts, Ateret Cohanim has been filing eviction orders against the families in Batn al-Hawa since 2002, with the goal of putting Jewish settlers in their place.
And while Israeli law allows for property to be transferred to Jews who claim previous ownership from before the establishment of of Israel, that same right is denied to Palestinians who were dispossessed from their homes during the Nakba in 1948.
To date, Ateret Cohanim has already taken control of six buildings in Batn al-Hawa, comprising 27 housing units. Units that once belonged to Palestinian families.
In the Batn al Hawa neighborhood alone, Ateret Cohanim has ongoing legal proceedings to evict 81 Palestinian families, numbering 436 people. Since 2015, 14 families in the neighborhood have already been forcibly evicted.
And that’s just in Batn al-Hawa.
In several other neighborhoods within Silwan, other settler organizations are also seeking to evict more Palestinian families, while the Israeli government has placed dozens of demolition orders on Palestinian homes in order to make way for an archaeological tourist park and nature reserve.
So, where does that bring us today?
Well, in 2020, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court. ordered the eviction of seven more Palestinian families in Batn al-Hawa. Two of those families were due to have their appeal cases heard on May 26th, but the Israeli court postponed its decision.
Despite the postponement the seven families, who number 108 individuals, are still under imminent threat of displacement. And they’re not alone.
According to a 2020 survey by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 218 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem, numbering 970 people, and over 400 children, have eviction cases filed against them.
Most of those cases were initiated by settler organizations like Ateret Cohanim.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have called on Israel to scrap the eviction plans in Silwan, saying that such forced evictions are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law that amount to war crimes.
As their forcible displacement looms, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan are asking the world to stand up against Israeli Apartheid, and are calling on people to continue bringing attention to their case on social media using the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah and #SaveSilwan.
Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss