Palfest 2011 closing session in Silwan — a night to remember

Last year, the Palestinian Literary Festival (PalFest) scheduled their opening and closing sessions in East Jerusalem’s Hakawati Theater near the closed-down Orient House, almost next to the American Colony Hotel — and both were shut down by Israeli Police on orders from the Ministry of Interior.

The Israeli explanation at the time was that security sources believed PalFest was somehow working with the Palestinian Authority — which Israel bans from activity in Jerusalem.

PalFest denied this, but the events were raided — and the 2010 opening event was hastily moved to the French Cultural Center in East Jerusalem, while the closing event was held in the garden of the (prepared) British Consulate.

This year, the PalFest 2011 closing session was scheduled — and was held — in Silwan, the hottest of the East Jerusalem hotspots, where there are daily confrontations between residents (some of whom are living with the threat of possible imminent eviction from their homes) and Israeli settlers, some of whom are living there, guarded by Israeli security forces, and some of whom are excavating under the Palestinian homes, trying to build a City of David archeological/touristic complex.

And, it was business as usual in Silwan: heavy Israeli Border Police presence, clashes, stones, (1) molotov cocktail, tear gas, rubber bullets… and in the midst, after regaining their composure, internationals were reading poetry, and DAM (Israeli-Palestinian rap or hip-hop group formed in Lod) performed, on a spring night in the Silwan protest tent.

UPDATE: A video of the PalFest participants arriving in Silwan for the closing event has now been posted by PalFest on Youtube {showing, among others, Ahdaf Souef, Munther Fahmi of the American Colony Bookshop, a bit of DAM’s performance, and Silwan’s Fakhri Abu Diab}:

[According to Wikileaks, here: “In 2004 DAM released a single called ‘Born Here’ in Arabic and Hebrew. The song was released with a videoclip directed by Juliano Mer Khamis”…]

Continue reading Palfest 2011 closing session in Silwan — a night to remember

Silwan faces crisis-point: two simultaneous evictions + evacuations

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is facing a new crisis point.

According to a late-night report from the Silwan Information Center (Silwanic), posted on their website here, “Silwanic has been informed that the illegal settlement of Beit Yonatan in the Baten al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan will be evicted at 9am either tomorrow [16 January] or [Monday] 17 January. Beit Yonatan is not the only illegally-built settlement in the area, it has stood at the heart of the settlement issue in Silwan, its continued existence a telling example of the double standards of the Jerusalem Municipality, who have issued hundreds of demolition orders to date to Palestinian homes on the strength of questionable licensing issues”.

We have previously reported on this matter on this blog, including here.

Late last week, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein — who has previously pressed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to execute court orders requiring the eviction of several settler families from Beit Yonathan, and the sealing of the building which does not comply with Jerusalem municpal building codes — again called on Mayor Barkat to carry out the evacuation order.

YNet reported, here, that Weinstein hinted that the Mayor could be charged with violation of the law if he failed to act to enforce the court order. Weinstein reportedly stated that “the implementation of the order was ‘an obligation set by the court’.”

At the beginning of the new year (2011), Barkat linked the eviction and evacuation of Beit Yonathan with the the fate of the Abu Nab family, whose 60 members have been living for decades in a compound they built that includes a structure that formally served as a synagogue for Yeminite Jews in Silwan before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 (when all Jews were evacuated from the area).

Barkat, who continues to want to implement an earlier plan he has proposed for the Silwan neighborhood that would reduce the number of pending Palestinian home demolitions [from something like 88 to something around 20] in exchange for retroactive “legalization” of all other structures there (including Beit Yonathan), did manage to temporarily persuaded the Aterit Cohanim settler organization to withdraw a civil suit they had filed to compel the eviction of the Abu Nab family.

YNet reported last week that “Despite a compromise proposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat the State insists on implementing the sealing order imposed on Beit Yonatan in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein sent a letter to Barkat Thursday stating that a date in the near future must be set for the implementation of the order”.

But, the Attorney General has apparently accepted the logic of the Mayor’s linkage of the fate of the two neighboring structures — one inhabited by East Jerusalem Palestinians, and the other one housing Israeli Jewish settler familes and their private (though state-salaried) security guards.

YNet reported that Weinstein added: ” ‘I have asked the enforcement elements to try and have the implementation of the order be performed at the same time another order is being carried out‘ … He was referring to the evacuation of Arab residents from the Abu Nab house which is adjacent to Beit Yonatan. He stressed that the sealing order must be implemented ‘without the intervention of unauthorized elements’ and noted that he has informed the political rank of this decision. Weinstein even hinted to Barkat that he should be careful for his actions over the Beit Yehonatan issue could come to criminal proceedings. He referred the Mayor to the Attorney General’s directive which stated that “an elected representative’s attempts to intervene in favor of one defendant or another in criminal proceedings carried out by the criminal prosecution has no place and is inappropriate. ‘These actions harm the independence of Israel’s criminal prosecution system and could harm the parity of the criminal process, coloring it with political opinions, if in essence, if outwardly and in certain cases, the actions themselves could become a felony. Last month Barkat prevented the evacuation of Beit Yonatan at the last minute after the Ateret Cohanim foundation lifted its demand to evacuate the residents of Abu Nab house which previously served as a synagogue. Barkat declared that should the foundation not agree to temporarily withdraw their demand he will evacuate both sites on the same day”.

Silwan organizer Adnan Gheith, who is also a Fatah activist, withdrew his appeal at the end of December — apparently with the support of the Fatah movement — to an Israeli military order banning him, or deporting him, for a period of four months from his home and from all of the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”, and arrived in Ramallah this week.

Quote of the day – 13th in our series: Israeli MK at press conference in Silwan

“It’s a shame and a disgrace that we have to travel in bulletproof vehicles inside of Jerusalem, the holy city, because of a few auto mechanics who are throwing rocks”.

Today’s quote comes from Israeli MK [Knesset Member] Ya’acov Katz, one of four members of the National Union Party who are presently serving in the Israeli Knesset or parliament, said at a press conference in Beit Yonathan in Silwan, East Jerusalem today.

Referring contemptuously to the adult male Palestinian residents of Silwan as “auto mechanics” explains quite a lot about the present conflict…

The Jerusalem Post, which reported on this press conference here, also wrote that “On Monday, the neighborhood saw the regular amount of rock throwing and tear gas”.

Meanwhile, criticism — and amazement — persist over the deal imposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who strategy seems to be based on his determined intent to pursue his own plan for the Silwan neighborhood, while the Israeli Attorney-General and an opposition member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council say the Mayor cannot ignore court orders.

Yesterday, Israeli commentators were worried about a “conflagration” erupting if orders to evacuate Beit Yonathan were carried out — or, if an order to evacuate the Palestinian Abu Nab family from their compound built on the site of what was a Yeminite synagogue in the 1940s, before the area fell under the control of Jordanian forces in the fighting that surrounded the proclamation of the State of Israel in mid-May 1948..

Crisis, talk of possible "conflagration", in Silwan today – defused by nightfall?

Israeli Border Police in large numbers were deployed in and around the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan today, as a constellation of pending events portended possible grave troubles ahead.

In the morning, the Police delivered a military notification to Silwan community activist Adnan Gheith that an order to expel him from his home for four months would be executed by 5 pm today. The measure was taken under emergency military orders issued in 1945, during the British administration of the Mandate of Palestine, prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel (in mid-May 1948).

Haaretz reported today that a letter handed to Gheith by the Police on behalf of the IDF Home Front Command a few weeks ago stated: “On November 25, security forces presented the military commander with defense-related material regarding your activities in the Jerusalem sector,” the letter read. “In light of the information contained herein, the military commander, the Home Front Commander [Maj. Gen. Yair Golan], is considering making use of the authority granted to him – and to order your removal from the Jerusalem city limits and its environs for a period of four months”.

According to Haaretz, Gheith was told earlier this week by the police “that he had two weeks to appeal the decision. ‘They claim to have classified information and all sorts of things’, he said. ‘But the truth is that I’m not leaving Jerusalem. Nobody can take a person away from his home and his family’.”

East Jerusalem Attorney Rami Othman said that a decision arrived this morning saying that the order would be carried out by 5 pm today. Othman then made an emergency appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

UPDATE: In the late afternoon Sunday the Court issued a temporary injunction against Gheith’s expulsion from Jerusalem by 5 pm.

Continue reading Crisis, talk of possible "conflagration", in Silwan today – defused by nightfall?

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 …]

Continue reading The Elders … in Silwan

Footage shows Silwan settler guard

A videotape has been aired that casts “grave doubt” on the explanation given by Israeli settler guard who killed one [it is not clear if there was a also second death] Palestinian man a week ago at 4 am in Silwan.

UPDATE: It has now become clear that there was only one Palestinian death in this shooting.

The guard said his was was blocked, and he feared for his life. Israeli printmedia quickly reported that the victim had a record of being involved in previous “riots”.

Here is the new evidence, a report on Israel’s Channel 2 Television with film provided by Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh Information Center:

The Silwan Information Center has a brief post on this new evidence here.

The Israeli police “investigation” apparently accepted the version of the Israeli settler guard — in any case, he was arrested, but then released on bail within 24 hours

Our earlier report on this story is here.

Ir Amim files petition against City of David

Weeks of strike action have ended in the Israeli court system, and the Ir Amim organization has finally been able to file a petition in Israel’s Supreme Court  [or High Court] of Justice asking asking the court “to annul the agreement granting Jewish right-wing group ‘El-ad’ the authority to manage the ‘City of David’, a historic site outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem”.

The City of David is a tourist complex with extensive archeological diggings that have caused panic and sometimes havoc in the Silwan neighborhood just outside [on the south-east corner] the crenelated wall of the Old City of Jerusalem.

The mosque esplanade on which both Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock sit overlooks the City of David, and the rest of Silwan (and the Mount of Olives a little further north.  In recent years, Israelis have begun to refer to this area as the “Holy Basin”.

Ir Amim’s petition was originally due to be filed on 23 June,  but the two-and-a-half-week-long strike in the country’s entire court system intervened.

Ir Amim means City of Nations, and the organization says it is working for a Jerusalem that is equitably shared between its two peoples and three religions.

A number of “prominent academics and civil servants” have also joined the Ir Amim petition.

The petitioners argue that “the agreement between the National Parks Authority and the right-wing organization El-ad, is illegal”.  They say that “no other national park in the country is managed by a private organization, with a clear political orientation and agenda”.

The petition is filed against the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Nature Preservation, the Jerusalem municipality and the El-ad organization, according to information received from Ir Amim.  And it “asks the court to file an order nisi to cancel the agreement under which the park is managed by El-ad, and return the park’s managerial authority to the NPA or another appropriate public body”.

Yehudit Oppenheimer, director of Ir Amim, stated that “The state of Israel has privatized one of the most sensitive historic sites in the country – and transferred it to the hands of a private organization with a clear political agenda … The public ‘s interest will be best served if national parks would be run by government authorities who were established for that exa.ct purpose”.

Attorney Michael Sfard, who is presenting the petition on behalf of Ir Amim with Attorney Neta Patrick, said that “The delegation of authorities to El-Ad is illegal”.

In related developments, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat is pushing a plan to demolish some 22 Palestinian homes in the area house — in exchange for which he says some 66 Palestinian homes built without permits would be legalized, to make way for a new “archeological park” called “King’s Gardens”.   Mayor Barkat has also been reluctant to enforce a court order to evacuate and seal a seven-story building built by a settler organization in the same Palestinian neighborhood, and has been trying to arrange a package deal that would accomodate together all these arrangements in some kind of package deal, despite the severe tensions created by special arrangements made to protect the few heavily-guarded Jewish families planted in this crowded and delapidated  Palestinian area.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have no agreed or effective political representation.

The actions of Israeli human organizations like Ir Amim, taken in the interests of Israeli democracy and morality, are at the same time the only existing source of support for this utterly unrepresented Palestinian East Jerusalem population.

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.

Clashes escalate in Silwan

Clashes escalated on Sunday in Silwan, an Israeli Border Police official told YNet that “red lines” have been crossed with reported molotov cocktails being thrown, in addition to stones.

YNet reported that clashes have continued since the announcement a week ago that the Jerusalem municipal planning committee had advanced a proposal to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in Silwan to expand a Jewish tourism complex.

Some six Israeli Border Police and four private Israeli guards were reported injured in clashes with Palestinian residents of this East Jerusalem neighborhood on the southeastern side of the walls of the Old City.

UPDATE: It was later reported [on Monday] that Palestinians had successfully repelled, overnight, an attempt by Israeli settlers to remove them from a structure in Silwan used as a home for Palestinian families for over half a century.

There are no reports, yet, of Palestinian casualties on Sunday just after nightfall though Ma’an News Agency reported that “additional forces of undercover units arrived on the scene, firing rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas canisters to disperse the locals who had gathered”. This story can be read in full here.

The previous night [overnight Saturday to Sunday], some 23 Palestinians were injured, including one shot by live ammunition, Ma’an reported here.  The same Ma’am report said that Palestinian medics “had to treat patients in the field as Israeli forces would not allow ambulances to leave the area”.

UPDATE: It was reported today that as a result of his injuries in these clashes, one of the Palestinian wounded had to undergo surgery in a hospital in East Jerusalem to remove one of his eyes. This is also reported by Hagit Ofran, Peace Now’s settlement watch director, on her blog here.

YNET on Sunday night quoted a senior Border Police official as saying: “The rioters will be arrested … A red line was crossed here in terms of violent disturbances of the peace against civilians and police. We will catch the rioters, and the defense establishment will bring them to justice.”   This is posted here.

The same YNet article has now been updated to report that “Nasrin Alian, of the Association for Civil Rights, said dozens of Palestinians were hurt in the clashes. ‘The settlers’ security guards abuse the residents, because of MK Uri Ariel’s threat that if Abu-Nab [n.b. – a house inhabited by Palestinians that was a synagogue before 1948] was not evacuated by July 4 they will clear it themselves’, she said”. It also says that ” Avner, a left-wing activist in contact with the Arab residents, said police were trying to create a provocation in order to keep from evicting the residents of Beit Yehonatan” [the seven-story building built in Silwan by an Israeli settler organization and inhabited by Jewish families protected by constant armed guard; it was built without permits and in violation of municipal codes for maximum building height, and an Israeli court affirmed last week an earlier verdict that Beit Yehonatan must be sealed and evacuated…]

We reported on this earlier here.

Continue reading Clashes escalate in Silwan

Friday demonstrations in East Jerusalem to focus on Silwan

IT’s too much!

Weekly Friday demonstrations have been held since last autumn, focussing on the serial eviction of Palestinian refugee families from UNRWA-built homes (28 are targetted) who are replaced by Israeli settlers who say their aim is to restore a pre-1948 Jewish presence in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, north of the Old City. This effort to displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah is taking place around a tomb said to be of Simon the Just (Shimon Hatzadik), High Priest in the Second Jewish Temple, that has became a focus of Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage in the past decade, and the plan is to clear away the Palestinian homes and build a housing complex for 200 Jewish families.

This Friday, however, the weekly demonstration will be re-focussed on the situation in Silwan — completely on the other [southern] side of the Old City of East Jerusalem — where 88 houses have been under threat of demolition for the past couple of years, mostly for having been built without proper permits, and where a seven-story building (also built without proper permits, in an area where two stories are the current maximum permitted, with a future possibility of four) draped in an Israeli flag banner, towers over the Palestinian neighborhood, inhabited by Jewish religious families under organized private and publicly-funded security protection.

Photo of demonstrators gathering in Silwan on Friday under the crenelated walls of the Old City and the dome of Al-Aqsa mosque – from Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan

Photo of demonstrators gathering in Silwan on Friday under the crenelated walls of the Old City and the dome of Al-Aqsa mosque - from Wadi Hilweh Information Center

At the beginning of the week, the Jerusalem municipal planning committee refused to hear a counter-proposal from Palestinian residents, and went ahead to approve a plan pushed by the Mayor, Nir Barkat, to demolish 22 of the 88 Palestinian homes and construct a “King’s Garden” [Gan Hamelech] tourism center in the Al-Bustan [garden or park] area of Silwan. It caused an uproar.

Continue reading Friday demonstrations in East Jerusalem to focus on Silwan