Solidarity in Silwan

The winner of the struggle in Silwn will be the winner in the struggle for the chance at an overall peace agreement (as such an agreement is not possible without compromise on the Jerusalem issue). If the State of Israel and its subsidiary, NGO ELAD, win – the residents of the area, citizens of Israel and residents of “East Jerusalem” will lose. A victory in the settlement in Silwan will be the harbinger of Israel’s victory in the rest of the Arab neighborhoods and may well create an irreversible obstacle in the conflict, in addition to the major obstacle that the large settlements constitute. No need to waste any more words. It has begun and may peak even without the participation of the Israeli public. The “only democracy in the Middle East” is excluding its citizens, in an anti-democratic way, from the most fatal decisions regarding their future. Although, it should be said – the citizens are excluding themselves. Who will wake them up? And when? (Idan Landau)     

The following article summarizes the attempts of ‘Solidarity’ Movement, in cooperation with the residents of Silwan, to stop the Jewish settlement in the neighborhood. Dividing the article into layers is, granted, schematic, but enables a fuller picture, in our opinion, despite the overlaps in methods of action.

First Level: Activism in the Field

This is hardly the place to elaborate on the violence of the security forces and the constant friction between them and the ELAD security guards, on one hand – and the resident on the other. The reality of it is that the neighborhood becomes a battle field quite frequently. Imagine, if you will, that the street in which you live turns, nightly, to a shooting ground, your house is flooded with tear-gas and explosions are heard all around.

We tried to enter this reality, invited by the residents, in order to stand by their side during these difficult and dangerous moments. We had several goals in this, primarily the intention to defend the uninvolved population, as much as possible, from the danger of collective punishment. We even had to initiate operations for clearing the garbage left behind by the soldiers and returning it to the nearest police station.

We also aggregated documentation and reports on incidents like the one published on Channel 2, on stones thrown by the police and settlers, in an attempt to prevent illegal actions on their part during invasions into the neighborhood.

Over the course of the past year our activists participated in hundreds of activities in the neighborhood and the conclusion from our cumulative experience is that activists’ presence in the focal points of friction reduces the amount of violence by security forces and the private security guards.   

Second Level: Joint Demonstrations

Over the course of the past year we held several joint demonstrations which brought together residents and activists. Whether we were demonstrating in support of Arab-Israeli cooperation, against the expulsion of the political activist Adnan Jith or the settlement in the City of David, these joint and non-violent demonstrations turned into the largest protest events ever to take place in Silwan and include residents from both West Jerusalem and the Eastern City.

Solidarity in Silwan, December 24, 2010. Photo by: Oren Ziv, Activestills.

Third Level: Legal Activism

During our activity in Silwan the police arrested and assaulted activists on different occasions. For instance, 8 activists were arrested during a demonstration at the City of David and excessive force was used on them, while another activist was arrested a mere few weeks ago, while photographing policemen who were shooting tear-gas during another event. Same activist was also beaten up while put into the police vehicle and needed medical attention.

Our legal team, along with many activists arrived at the Police Investigation Unit to give testimony on various events and an investigation was opened which bore no results so far, despite a detailed description of some of the events. As of now, there are still 4 indictments pending against Solidarity activists.

Fourth Level: Fighting the Political Oppression in Silwan

As the political activity in Silwan grew the police and the Shin Beit increased their attempts to silence and intimidate the local leadership. Thus an expulsion warrant was issued against the political activist Adnan Jith and over the past few months an attempt was made to frame the community activist Jawad Siam, founder of Madaa Silwan Creative Center and Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a prominent social-political activist in the neighborhood.

In an effort to raise public awareness and end the political persecution in Silwan, we initiated the demonstration against Adnan’s expulsion together with Silwan residents and soon a public campaign will be launched in support of Jawad.

Jawad’s legal battle is being managed by Attorney Leah Zemel’s firm, in close cooperation with Solidarity Movement and Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

Fifth Level: Public Relations and Protest Outside of Silwan

Over the past year we have put great effort into keeping the struggle in Silwan from being pushed away from public awareness in Israel. Rooted in the belief that ignorance and ignoring this reality are the Right Wing weapon, we tried to tell the story of the settlement in Silwan to as many Israelis as possible in dozens of house meetings, articles and promotion stands.

Since the Jerusalem municipality, headed by Mayor Nir Barkat is taking (and has been for a while) an active part in strengthening the settlement in Silwan, including the plan to build the King’s Garden and destroy 88 houses in Silwan, we initiate a series of public events designed to urge the municipality and the person heading it to act not only on behalf of a handful of Right Wing Settlers but also in benefit of the general public in Jerusalem.

As such, we organized a demonstration that drew hundreds of Jerusalem residents in front of Barkat’s home and the Sukkah that was erected at City Hall. We also surprised the Mayor at a gallery opening and even during dinner at a prestigious restaurant.  

Sixth Level: Working with the Media

There is no novelty in the statement that the Israeli press prefers to cover the events in Silwan from the police’s perspective and almost exclusively during violent events. Over the past year we have tried to slightly change the media’s approach.

So that when Channel 2 chose to cover the moving, none-violent protest parade we held in Silwan on June 2010 against shots of stone-throwing from a different place and time – more than a hundred activists wrote to the Media Council and broke the council’s record of complaints about a news item to that point. 

When a security guard from ELAD shot to death a resident of Silwan, Samar Sirhan, the Jerusalem police announced it had accepted the guard’s version and closed the case a mere few hours after the incident. In cooperation with the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, we managed to release a video to the press, shot from a security camera, refuting the guard’s version and forcing the police to re-open the investigation.

In October things got heated in the neighborhood when Director of ELAD, David Be’eri, ran over two children (who, it seems, had been throwing stones at his car) and fled the scene. Following the tendentious coverage of the affair, we initiated a piece on the children of Silwan for Channel 2 Friday Night Studio program. A few days later we achieved another victory when we delivered to Channel 2 a video of Border Police throwing stones at Palestinian residents of the neighborhood.

Additional articles from Silwan: 
60 Minutes on City of David, CBS, October 2010 (English)
Community Center instead of the Street: An Island of Sanity for the Children of Silwan, ynet, November 2010 (Hebrew)
How the Police Harasses the Protest Leader in Silwan, Ha’aretz, April 2011 (Hebrew)

 Instead of a Conclusion – A Call for Action

The various methods of action we took this past year are all intertwined in order to provide an overall response to the activity of right wing NGOs working in the area.

But a grocery list hardly makes for an interesting read. Action is sometimes preferred.

Our website is full of information from different sources on what goes on in Silwan. There is much to read, learn and deepen one’s understanding on the burning issues in the area.

Anyone who would like to participate without actually leaving home can participate in our internet campaign for demanding the popular tour guides like Lonely Planet to remove the City of David, operated by ELAD, from their recommended sites.

Last but not least: our activities, starting with demonstrations, fliers, buses, legal representation, etc. – all costs money. In order to keep the action flowing, we need your support.

How to donate?   

Donations can be made through “The Fund for Protecting Democracy” (FPD) – a  none profit company assisting us with funding activities through IsraelGives website.
Please take a few minutes to register anonymously to the website.

5 Facts about the City of David you might not hear from your tour guide
“Blindfolded”: activity in Silwan    
Letter Campaign: Exposing ELAD – Revealing the truth 
Wailing: At the other side of the wall / Chen Misgav