Residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan are operating a free summer camp for local kids, but have come up against harassment by the authorities.
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The Madaa Silwan Creative Center, a community center run by residents of the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, have been operating the summer camp for hundreds of children ages five to 16 for a full decade. Parents pay nothing; the money comes from a fund to which local residents contribute and is supported by the European Union.
Although the camp operates out of an information center that is active politically against the Jewish settlers of Silwan and against the occupation, the camp’s directors say the camp is apolitical and includes sports, art and music.
For the past week the camp has been visited repeatedly by city inspectors and police. Four days ago the inspectors wrote a citation for 475 shekels ($126) because a rope had been strung across two low concrete posts at the entrance to the center. The rope was placed there after two children who came out of the center were struck by passing cars. One of them suffered a broken leg.
Most of the buildings in Silwan, whether inhabited by Jews or Arabs, have been built without permits.
On Monday, inspectors of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority came to the site because the center’s offices are built within the Jerusalem Walls National Park.
They also asked about the rope and wanted to see the permit that allowed it to be placed there. When no permit was forthcoming, they handed the center’s director, Jawad Siam, a summons to appear for questioning at the police station in a month.
The inspectors, accompanied by Border Police, entered the center. The police started asking questions about pictures on the walls, showing houses that were demolished by the city and arrests of Palestinian youths.
“They started taking pictures of the children and we asked them to go outside because the children had started to be frightened. We took the pictures down because our concern is the children,” said the center’s deputy director Suher Abasi.
“The goal is mainly to have fun,” Abasi said. “The children of Silwan don’t have a lot of rights, and this is a chance to run, sing and play. We just want to keep them away from the police and the settlers.”
Three days before the nature and parks inspectors arrived, representatives of Jerusalem’s water and sewage corporation, Gihon, came to the site along with the Bailiff’s Office.
They demanded payment of a debt of 6,000 shekels and threatened that if payment was not made immediately, in cash, they would confiscate the computers the campers were using.
The center’s directors said the officials refused to show them the paperwork regarding the debt. They quickly got the money together from parents and volunteers. Only after they saw the receipt did they realize that the debt was for the house next door to the center.
Gihon said in response that the house is a hotel for tourists, not a day camp and that it has not seized any property. Gihon confirms that the debt has been paid but adds that there was no claim made that the property or the debt was not theirs.
The Jerusalem municipality responded: “Installation of posts and chains in a public place required a municipal permit because it must not be allowed for anybody who wants to put up barriers without supervision or coordination. In this case, the directors of the camp did not apply to the municipality for a permit and put up the barrier in a manner that blocked the sidewalk. The attempt to claim that the barrier was placed to prevent children from going into the street is not relevant because the directors of the camp could have asked the city how to increase safety in the area.”
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority responded: “Along the road the residents frequently place barriers to mark out and take over areas in a number of ways, such as scrap iron, garbage, ropes and chains that are not temporary. These actions disrupt vehicular and pedestrian traffic, they are carried out without permits and from time to time lead to infractions of planning and building laws. As part of preventive enforcement, the authority’s inspectors operate at the site. The summons for questioning is to check whether there have been infractions in the national park, and therefore the form contained a summons by the authority, which, as is known, enforces the law in national parks and nature reserves.”
The Gihon water corporation did not respond to a query for this report.