Society / Palestine
Jewish radicalism in Jerusalem
Marie MMina - 30/10/2008
In the Old Town
The Old Town, located in East Jerusalem, was conquered by Israel during the Six Day war in 1967. In the former “Moroccan Quarter”, houses were destroyed to free some space for the Wailing Wall. The area surrounding this holy place was renovated and has become a Jewish quarter. Today, it’s one of the four quarters of the Old Town, together with the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters.
At present, about 35.000 people live within the walls, of which 4.000 are Jewish. Among these, 950 live outside the Jewish quarter, mainly in the Muslim and Christian quarters.
Ariel Sharon is the epitome of this Israeli style settling: back in 1987, when he was Minister of Commerce and Industry, he bought an apartment that stepped over El Wad, one of the main arteries of the Muslim quarter. Though he almost never lived in that house, the symbol is there. And Palestinians never fail to show this house to visitors, graced with a big Israeli flag and crowned with an imposing hanoukkah (a nine-branched candelabrum).
The organisation Ateret Cohanim helps Jewish families to buy Palestinian property within the Old Town. Its spokesman, Dan Laurie, doesn’t see why they should deprive themselves of living in the Muslim quarter. “Any Jew that understands the importance of the Temple Mount wants to live here”, he justifies. The Temple Mount is the Jewish name of what Muslims call the Mosque Esplanade. On this site overhanging the Wailing Wall, where there once was the Temple of Jerusalem, we now find the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
According to M. Laurie, things are simple: “There are Arabs that want to sell and Jews that want to buy” – at a higher price than the market. Spokesman Ateret Cohanim recognises that the purchasers are “mainly religious families that are very idealistic”. As for the Palestinians, these are nothing but settlers who mean, by their presence, to prevent Jerusalem from being divided and become the capital of two States.
Some aggressions have already taken place. A rabbi was stabbed last summer. So settlers are now protected. Their houses are easily recognisable: the entry is generally an armoured door with a surveillance camera on top. When they move around the quarter, two armed guards usually escort the groups of Jewish orthodox women and children. One walks in front the other in the back. This private security is financed by the State, which “no doubt finds it cheaper than installing police stations on every corner of the road”, explains M. Laurie.
In some buildings nearby the Mosque Esplanade, Jews live in direct contact with Palestinians. Just above the Youth Association of the Old Town, for example, some rooms host the students of a yeshiva, among the small apartments where Arab families live crammed. On the roof, an armed guard protects them 24 hours a day.
Samir Amru, the director of the Youth Association, complains about the very poor neighbour relations. He states that young Jews sometimes pretend to kidnap Palestinian children for fun to throw their families into a panic. He tells us he found writings on the door of the centre like “Death to the Arabs” or a drawing of knifes forming the star of David. He shows us the ceilings and walls of the rooms, infiltrated with water and explains that at every Jewish festivity, his upstairs neighbours leave their room with the taps running, to provoke floods, short-circuits and computer damages. He also recounts that when an old Palestinian woman was admitted to the hospital, the Jews living in that building forced the door of her apartment and occupied it, before they were thrown out by the Arab residents. Now the access is condemned by a steel door to prevent any new break in.
Hiyam El Ayyan, the director of the Saraya centre, also describes her very tense neighbourhood relations with the Jewish families that live right near her institution. One morning last year, the members of the Palestinian association discovered to their surprise that the settlers had pierced a door, which gave into their court. They closed it up at once, as they were scared that the settlers would annex the court de facto. Relationships further worsened when the son of a neighbouring family died during the attack of the yeshiva (on March 2008, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem killed eight persons in a Talmudic school). “They would throw things down here everyday” remembers Hiyam El Ayyan, as for example rubbish, rotten fruit or “used toilet paper”. She recognises that she was never witness to physical violence. However, she feels a victim of harassment.For example, every time the centre begins some renovation works, the neighbours call the police and the army. “They want us to feel permanently unsafe” she states.
The situation is even tenser in Silwan, the Palestinian village that borders the south of the Jewish Quarter of the Old Town, some hundred meters from the Wailing Wall.
The vestiges discovered there, mark “the actual placement of the Biblical city of Jerusalem conquered more than 3000 years ago by King David”. Or at least this is what Elad affirms, an organisation that subsidises the archaeological excavations of the area, engaged in developing tourism but also in achieving residential projects, i.e., to make the quarter Judaic.
The first Jewish settlers appeared in 1991, and the attempts of ethnic cleansing increased. The Rabbi Association for the rights of man accuses Elad to have created a “means to expel the residents from their properties, to seize public land, to circle this land with barriers and guards and prohibit the access to local inhabitants”.
Several methods are employed.
The law on the property of absent people, that Israel abstained from applying to East Jerusalem for many years, started being evoked in 2004, when the Separation Wall cut out some inhabitants of the West Bank from their lands located in the municipal limits of Jerusalem. These Palestinians were declared “Absent” and their lands were confiscated.
In a minority of cases, the Jews use Arab front men to buy houses on sale. “Out of about 50 sites presently in the hands of settlers, about six were acquired with the help of Palestinian collaborators”, relates an inhabitant of the village.
The sale is even more tempting considering that in the part of Silwan named Wadi Hilwe (the beautiful valley), 7000 inhabitants live under the permanent threat of expulsion: 60% of them have already received a demolition order for their home. In the quarter of Al-Bustan (the garden), in 2005, the municipality was going to demolish 88 houses under the pretext that they were located on an archaeological site. The international mobilisation allowed to suspend the destruction of these dwellings – of which none had been built illegally. However, this is only a respite, considering that the decision was never revoked.
In addition, about 40 houses of Wadi Hilwe suffered structural damages due to the underground excavations undertaken illegally by Elad. The law envisages that the owner must first give his authorisation to excavate below his land. Elad doesn’t ask for permission. And when inhabitants protest, they are the ones arrested on the grounds of creating “public unrest”.
On last spring, the Supreme Court finally ordered to suspend the excavations under the Palestinian houses of Silwan. To no effect, so it seems. Last summer, the purring of the machines that blow air in the tunnels could still be heard. Those machines are turned on only when workers are there, explain some inhabitants, deducing that underground, the works haven’t stopped.
“We called the police but they didn’t come to stop them”, tells a neighbour. “Elad bought the police station. It’s the settlers of the extreme right that giver orders to the police”.
Jawad Siyam recounts the incident that took place last summer. A 12 year old Palestinian who was gathering some metal to earn some money, took some iron in front of the house of a settler. So they accused him of theft and a private guard pointed his gun at the head of the child. The inhabitants started to protest, so the police intervened and arrested… the 12 year old boy, who was confined for five days.
Translated by Nada Ghorayeb
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"
Translated by Nada Ghorayeb
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"
"With financial support from the Preventing Violent Radicalisation Programme
European Commission - Directoracte-General Justice, Freedom and Security"