Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Part 2: Whatís Going on in Silwan? Eladís List of Sins

By James Knoop - November 13, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Silvan] [Jerusalem] [Settlers]

This is a three part story about the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan which threatened by Jewish settlers who are in control of archaeological tourism in the area.  The state of Israel supports the settlers in order to consolidate its hold over Jerusalem, while the settlers are seeking control over the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount area – a site of religious importance.  Part 1 of this series focuses on the destruction of homes in Al Bustan; Part 2 talks about the rise of settler archaeology; Part 3 covers the role of municipal planning which when taken all together amounts to a bureaucratic form of ethnic cleansing in slow motion.

On October 8, 2010 following a week of riots caused by the killing of Samer Sirkhan who was shot by a private Israeli guard, a group of children surrounded settler leader David Be’eri’s car and began throwing stones. Be’eri drove up on the children slowly, then stepped on the gas knocking one child off the left side of bumper while another flew in a tangled heap over the hood and windshield.

The incident was caught on tape by an Al Jazeera camera man and went instantly viral, making news headlines around the world. What happened is emblematic of the past 20 years in Silwan.

The incident shows the resentment felt by Palestinians towards the settlers who have forced themselves into their neighbourhood. It demonstrates the settler attitude, willing to bowl over anyone that gets in the way. One of the children hit,Imran Mansour, was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces. Be’eri got off without charges.

David Be’eri is an ex-military commando who founded the powerful Elad organization. Over the years Elad has moved in some 500 ultra orthodox settlers into the heart of East Jerusalem in order to secure geopolitical control for an undivided Jerusalem. It also conducts invasive archaeological excavations and brings 500,000 million tourists each year into the neighbourhood, simultaneously rewriting history and controlling all the profits.

Elad’s motives are clear; their goal is to expand and strengthen Jewish presence in East Jerusalem.

“There is no other place in the world the Jews want to live more than here,” says Elad’s director of development Doron Spielman in a 2010 interview. “The Arabs have Mecca, they have Medina. They may also be interested in Jerusalem but for the Jews this is our only home.”

The problem is that Silwan is not their home. It is an Arab Palestinian neighbourhood that lies in the heart of East Jerusalem, the capital city of a future Palestinian state, whether by a two state solution or not.

Elad, the JNF, and the Israeli government collusion

Elad is what happens when religious zeal meets nationalistic fervor. In the modern era where religion and state are separate entities, Elad is an anachronism. With God as its banner and the state as its backer, Elad has been steadily acquiring land in Silwan by manipulating moral and legal norms since 1986.

One of the primary methods of seizing Palestinian houses is through the Absentee Property Law. The absentee law was created in order for Israel to consolidate territory; it states that residents who fled their homes during wartime are to have their properties confiscated. Originally, East Jerusalem was specifically excluded from this law. Elad began applying it to Silwan in the early 1990s.

“There is no other place in the world the Jews want to live more than here,” says Elad’s director of development Doron Spielman

Elad’s first house acquisition is the most infamous among Silwan residents, and insidious. It set the tone for the next 20 years of relations with the Palestinians.

David Be’eri, trained by the army for undercover missions, began making incursions into Silwan in the late 1980s under the guise of being a tourist guide. He led fake tourists on non-existent tours while conducting reconnaissance.

Eventually, Be’eri befriended a man named Abbasi who invited him into his home. Be’eri used information he gathered from Abbasi to file an affidavit to the Custodian for Absentee Property, which then proceeded to declare Abbasi’s house “absentee” as a result of his testimony.

On October 10, 1991, members of Elad broke into the house in the middle of the night while the family was sleeping. According to a report, “The intruders suspended themselves by rope from a window in the roof, broke door locks, threw furniture into the courtyard and ascended onto the roof, where they broke into song and dance and waved the Israeli flag in the light of the breaking day.”

Sadly, such underhanded and militant tactics are not uncommon. Elad is known to use fake lawyers, forged documents and bribery for inside information.

In one instance, a house in Silwan was sold on the basis of documents signed posthumously. The testimony of Lufti Siyam to the Jerusalem District Court in 1996 stated: “They stamped two of my grandmother’s fingers, from her left hand and her right hand, on six documents.”

In another instance in 2012, the Hamdallah family lost a 17 year court battle for one room in its multi-story house. With the support of American Jewish billionaire Irving Moskowitz, settlers installed themselves into the now divided house behind heavy security, while three members of the family are evicted and 17 still live inside.

According to the human rights group Ir Amin, there exists an agreement between Elad and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a powerful organization founded in 1901 that owns 13% of the land of Israel. Be’eri it seems was commissioned by the JNF to identify property owned by Jewish families in the early 20th century.

The JNF evicts Palestinian families while Elad receives the tenancy to move in more settlers.

Remarkable government collusion is behind the entire process. The Ministry of Housing issues the expropriated land to Elad without a tender process. The Ministry of Finance declares the property as “absentee” to be available for purchase. The JNF purchases the lands and transfers the leases to Elad, whose agents identified it in the first place.

It is no wonder that in 2008, Elad’s Doron Spillman was recorded to say, “We are almost a branch of the government of Israel. Today, Elad has a stranglehold on the neighbourhood.”

Religious Zionism and the Archaeological Connection

While still in the settler business, Elad has expanded in modus operandi. In 1994 Elad began financing archaeological excavations in Silwan. In 2005, it received authorization to manage an archaeological tourist park in Silwan called the City of David.

 The main problem with Elad’s new powers is the way it attempts to Judaize Silwan at the expense of the Palestinian residents.

Elad uses its archaeological discoveries at the City of David to try to confirm what is in the bible, yet some of its findings are tenuous at best. It promotes the message that because King David conquered the city thousands of years ago modern day Silwan belongs to the Jews today. International law however, recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

Dr. Raphael Greenberg, a professor at Tel Aviv University and one of Israel’s most prominent archaeologists, describes the changes in Silwan from his six years of experience working there in the 1970s and 80s compared to the present.

“The place I knew as an Arab village with archaeology turned into a place with armed guards and guns ready to be pulled out at any moment. A place with amplified symbols of Israeli presence – huge flags, watch towers, cameras filming 24 hours a day,” says Greenberg.

“This was my renewed acquaintance with Jerusalem, with the City of David under the rule of Elad the settler organization which now runs the park here.”

Greenburg continues, “They have their own stand on the history of this region. It begins before the time of David and then history ends with the destruction of the second temple, only to be renewed with their own settlement here with the early Zionists in the 19th century.”

Israeli youth are particularly exposed to Elad’s political messaging. Educational trips to the City of David are mandatory for both Israeli primary school children and the Israeli Defense Force. The message that is promoted on these tours is that the land belongs to Israel because of its religious connection.

The place I knew as an Arab village with archaeology turned into a place with armed guards and guns ready to be pulled out at any moment

Yet, in 2010, Elad’s Doron Spielman claimed, “I wouldn’t call it indoctrination. I would call it giving meaning to life.”

Archaeological groups also criticize Elad for the way in which it conducts its research. The group Emek Shaveh for instance, released a report saying that Elad’s excavations are being conducted in an environment of secrecy, with no sensitivity towards the local residents.

It frequently expropriates public areas behind fences and security. One site that is now lost used to be a play area for children and a market area for Palestinian vendors until it was turned into a closed excavation pit. Another path linking the neighbourhood of Al Bustan to a mosque in Wadi Hilweh was unnecessarily closed off.

In 2008, there was a discovery of human bones from the early Muslim period. But the excavations were not stopped and the bones were cleared away without being reported the find to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

In an ideal world, archaeological findings would be used to find a common bond between the two cultures. Elad makes no attempt to use its discoveries in order to promote a shared historical past between the Palestinians and the Jews, and instead sows strife and discord through the way it conducts itself.

Palestinan protester showing a baner - Photo by: Lazar Simeonov
There are no outreach attempts made to the community, zero educational programs for the local school children, and few opportunities for Palestinians to engage in the commerce from tourism.

Archaeologists also accuse Elad of engaging in bad archaeological practices, a horizontal digging technique that hasn't been used for 100 years. Tunnels are now running under Palestinian homes and streets and have destroyed many buildings, including a daycare center.

Many believe the tunnels are going straight to al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam which towers over the neighbourhood of Silwan. The holy Muslim area is also the location the Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, where the old temples of King Solomon and Herod once stood.

It is a contested area between Jews and Muslims, but also between Israelis and Palestinians. The proximity to Silwan have everything to do with why Elad is so eager to take the over the neighbourhood. The most conservative of Jews seek to create the Third Temple here. In fact, Elad’s tours end with the message, “May the Third Temple be built speedily in our days.”

Speilman acknowledges, “It’s where the tunnel is going and what the tunnel means that concerns them [the Palestinians]…the tunnel will one day open into the Western Wall plaza. We will undergo an experience which shows that the Jewish Temple was important 600 years before Mohammad.”

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