Hagit Ofran in Silwan: "This time it sounded serious"

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now is one of the Israeli experts on the settlements her compatriots are building in the West Bank [including East Jerusalem].

Hearing from Silwan on Sunday evening about the escalating clashes there, she went to see what was happening, and then posted her account, complete with photos and a video, on her blog, Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem.

For anyone who thinks these are just minor incidents, the title of her post, Battlefield, gives a good idea of what happened in a crowded, run-down Palestinian area of East Jerusalem where Israeli Border Police are the only available authority — and they are hostile. They are on the side of the settlers.

Hagit observed, in this post, that “Most of my neighbors in West Jerusalem heard nothing of this and don’t even know that 5 minutes drive from us, in East Jerusalem, there are Palestinian neighborhoods with tens of thousands of residents, including the neighborhood of Silwan which in the last months has been at the center of clashes between settlers, police and residents … Silwan and East Jerusalem in general, are far from the hearts and minds of the Israeli media and public attention. Police feel they are in the Wild West and that nobody will do anything to them”.

In her post, Hagit reported that: “Almost every evening over the last weeks there have been clashes in Silwan between police, guards and residents. This time it sounded serious. M. reported on injured and ambulances that were delayed. I decided to go see close up. … When I got there the situation was heated: a force of Border Police, armed and shielded from head to toe, were running through the narrow alleys of the neighborhood and being pelted by a shower of stones. They were shouting, firing tear gas, firing shock grenades and occasionally also live fire.

“How did it all begin? According to the residents’ testimony, this time again it was a group of guards from a private security company who guard the settlers at Beit Yehonatan [n.b., the seven-structure house built without pemits by a settlement organization in this Palestinian but now hotly-contested neighborhood of East Jerusalem], who were walking around the streets provocatively. According to some of the testimonies the guards spat at Palestinian children, and according to others, the children were the ones to start cursing the guards. One way or another friction was created, followed by a confrontation, during which stones were thrown at the guards, who did not hesitate and fired in the air (see for example how they acted two weeks ago).

“Then came Border Police forces. They accompanied the guards into the home of the Abu Nab family, who are in the middle of a legal procedure against settlers over ownership of the house. Lately MK Uri Ariel of the right announced the settlers’ intention to forcefully enter the house soon. According to residents’ testimony, the guards, with the police, broke the house’s shutters and the window and threw a tear gas grenade into the house“…

“Tear gas is a strong substance. It causes anyone near it suffocation and severe burning of the eyes. If you throw it into a house – it is a real danger. The members of the family were at home at the time, including small children and women, who were evacuated from the house coughing and frightened.

“At first I didn’t believe that the police really threw tear gas into a house. The tear gas must have been in the street and entered through the open window, I thought to myself. But when I got to the house at midnight, three hours after the gas was thrown, there was still a smell of gas in the air, and when I stood in the kitchen for a minute I began coughing and suffocating from the remnants of gas that were still hanging in the air.

“In light of the settlers’ threats of their intention to evacuate the family from the home, everybody was sure it was an infiltration [sic – maybe she means incitement, a ruse to effect eviction?] by settlers: the family goes out of the house because of the gas, and the guards and police who already entered the house take over it…

“The residents were quick to respond, stones were thrown at the police and the guards, and police responded by firing gas, shock grenades and sometimes also live fire.

“Eventually the Abu Nab family returned home…

“East Jerusalem is so tense right now. Every small thing is perceived as a provocation. On a week when the mayor announced the intention to demolish homes in Silwan for a biblical park, with rumors about the beginning of construction at the Shepherd Hotel continuing to circulate and when the settlers threaten to forcefully enter another house in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood in Silwan, things seem to be on the brink of explosion.

“And another thing: this time, just like yesterday, the Border Police took advantage of the situation to vandalize the neighborhood. A police jeep forcefully crashed into Palestinian cars parked on the street, and according to residents’ testimony, the police broke car windows with rifle butts“…

Hagit Ofran’s post can be viewed in full here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *