Life in Silwan: Unbearable for Jews and Palestinians Alike

In the latest incident of violence in the East Jerusalem neighborhood, a settler leader hit 2 Arab children with his car after they allegedly threw stones at it.

Life in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan has become unbearable, both for the Jewish settlers who would like to be able to leave home without being stoned and the Palestinians who suffer the heavy hand of the police and the settlers' security guards.

The area is home to some 60,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews. The pattern of Jewish settlement is unlike anywhere else, with some 70 Jewish families in 15 different locations, islands among tens of thousands of Palestinians. The resulting friction requires the presence of dozens of security guards and surveillance cameras.

Mahmoud Kara’in, Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

Since Palestinian resident Samer Sirhan was shot to death before Sukkot, hardly a day has gone by without cars belonging to Jews being stoned. Settlers also report that their cars have been torched and they have been harassed on the street.

Recently, settlers wrote to Police Commissioner David Cohen demanding that he dismiss Jerusalem police chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Franco because of what they termed his failure to protect them. The letter said more than 60 cars had been damaged by stones, iron bars and other objects over the past three months.

The latest downturn in the situation followed an incident on Friday in which Silwan settler leader David Be'eri hit two Arab children with his car after they allegedly threw stones at it. The incident changed Be'eri's ideas about shared life in the neighborhood, according to Udi Ragones, a spokesman for Elad, the association Be'eri heads and that develops Silwan for Jewish settlers.

"He has understood that if we want to live here, we have to live alongside them, not instead of them and not against them," Ragones said.

Silwan's Jewish settlers say leftist groups are to blame for the deterioration, because they foment unrest in Silwan.

Mahmoud Kara'in, 25, a field worker for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, rejected this theory.

"If there are good relations, why does he [Ragones] go around with a pistol?" Kara'in demanded. "What kind of good relations do we have when four people were shot over the past year, one of whom died? Twenty-four arrests a day, that's good relations?"

Kara'in was visibly upset yesterday after right-wing spokesmen compared the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, the group most actively opposing Elad in Silwan, to a terrorist organization. "We have four people shot in one year, one killed, and we're the terrorists?" Kara'in said.

Behind the information center is a kind of community center, with a small library, a computer room and a music room with violins and a piano. "This is a terrorist center?" he asked.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Knesset State Control Committee has decided to hold a meeting on illegal Arab construction in East Jerusalem in Beit Yonatan, a building illegally constructed by settlers in Silwan. In an angry letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) demanded the meeting be canceled, saying holding it in Beit Yonatan was "tantamount to contempt of the legal system by the Knesset."