The Elders … in Silwan

A delegation of The Elders, headed by Mary Robinson and including Jimmy Carter [see our previous posts here] visited Silwan, a hotspot in East Jerusalem just outside of the walls of the Old City of East Jerusalem, and downwind of two major Islamic sites — Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock — is a volatile hotspot where thousands of Palestinians are living under threat of eviction as two settler groups literally dig in to try to discover and track King David’s presence in ancient times.

A few hundred Israeli settlers are protected by armed semi-private security guards who are not supervised by the police or military, and several Palestinian deaths by gunfire from these guards have caused disturbances there this year.

Both Carter and Robinson expressed hope that East Jerusalem would become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

An Associated Press correspondent has filed a “pool report” for the Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA) describing the visit — during which Algeria’s former Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi (a UN official from time to time) was apparently not present.

According to Nuha + Khader Musleh’s very useful summary of the Palestinian press today, The Elders delegation was received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday. [Too bad that it is so difficult, even impossible, to get useful information from the Presidential press office or any other Palestinian source for official information …]

The FPA pool report said that one of the Palestinian residents of Silwan, “40-year-old Aida Rishek, a mother of seven children, said she lives under the constant threat of eviction from her home because the Israeli authorities say it does not have a building license. ‘Through your visit, we feel that we are still human beings … particularly since the Israeli occupation government has treated us so badly’, she said”.

UPDATE/ADD: According to a CNN report here Risheko also said to Carter: “We want a promise from you. Give us just one night to sleep without the fear of the arrest of my husband and my children,” she said speaking through an interpreter. And, Mary Robinson said, in Silwan, that “We are also troubled by the treatment of any Palestinian who opposes the government policies,” she said.

According to the FPA pool report, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: “All of us have been emotionally involved in the plight of you and other Palestinians. The suffering here under occupation and the deprivations of people in Gaza are evidence of the improper policies of the government of Israel … We don’t have any authority, as you know, but we have a voice. We will be meeting with the mayor and also with the speaker of the Knesset. We will be sure that they understand also the problems that you have described to us. And we will continue to work on a peaceful solution where the Israelis will withdraw from east Jerusalem, and let this be the capital of a Palestinian state”.

The FPA pool report added that Mary Robinson said: “As a human rights person, I have been very affected by this visit. Yesterday, we looked with some Arab Israeli citizens of Israel at the laws that discriminate against them, and the new laws that are being proposed. And today, we are hearing the human stories here in east Jerusalem, of people being evicted from their homes. It is a most fundamental human rights issue, and we will try both here on this mission in Jerusalem, but also when we go from here … to get your voices out, so people can hear your story … We have heard your story and we will try in every way possible, as elders — we are not political, we are not negotiators, we are Elders who have been asked by Nelson Mandela to reach out to those who are suffering, to those whose human rights are being violated, those who feel they don’t have power against very powerful people [and] that the law is not helping them. But we will try our utmost to make your story known, including to Israelis, who do not know always what is happening, but also to outsiders in order that the justice of your case is understood. and we hope there will be more real progress on a two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state”.

An AFP “additional color” pool report for the FPA adds this bit: [a third delegation member] “Ela Bhatt caused some surprise when she expressed her hope that there would be ‘just one Jerusalem’, causing Robinson to step in and clarify that she [Bhatt] meant she hoped east Jerusalem would become the Palestinian capital”.

Israel’s Arutz 7 website, which has a right-wing nationalist and pro-settler stance, reported after the visit to Silwan that the delegation “did not meet with any Jewish residents of the area. In response to a reporter’s question, Carter said that Jews would be allowed to live in the neighborhood ‘only under Palestinian rule’.” This is published here.

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