1,500 Palestinians in Silwan are being forced to demolish their own homes for theme park
In recent weeks, Sheikh Jarrah's fight for survival against displacement and ethnic cleansing by Israel has been the subject of widespread international attention, leading to protests across Palestine and worldwide. But just five kilometers away exists another group of Palestinian families who are also facing Israeli ethnic cleansing. At least 1,500 Palestinians in Silwan are being forced to demolish their own homes so Israeli settlers can build a religious theme park.
Silwan is located in occupied East Jerusalem and is home to thousands of Palestinians. The human rights organization Al-Haq reports that Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem make up the majority of the population, but “Israeli zoning laws have allocated 35 percent of the land area for the construction of illegal settlements by Israeli settlers”.
In 1967, Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War gave Israel's occupation control of East Jerusalem. Not long thereafter, various occupation groups launched lopsided "legal" battles "contesting" property ownership of much of Sheikh Jarrah. Those battles continue today, triggering mass protests among Palestinians who live under the specter of mass displacement and apartheid. Palestinians who live in the area report that their neighbourhood is “under siege,” and abuses by settlers and Israeli forces are mounting.
Israel vs Palestine Explained (WATCH)
The May 2021: Israel vs Hamas War
In early May 2021, anti-eviction protests in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere in East Jerusalem were one of the triggers for the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. The fighting began when settlers and police decided to carry out an ethnic cleansing operation, stealing several homes. This led to mass protests in Jerusalem, when protestors refused to withdraw, Israeli police decided to violently storm the compound of the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. Soon after Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel: Withdraw from the Temple Mount (which includes al-Aqsa), and Sheikh Jarrah or there will be consequences. That evening, after the ultimatum went unanswered by Israel, Hamas unleashed thousands of rudimentary rockets and Israel responded by heavily bombing Gaza and violently repressing protestors in the West Bank. By the time a ceasefire was brokered between Israel and Hamas on May 21st, at least 256 people, including 66 children, had been murdered by Israel, most in Gaza.
While Israeli courts suspended rulings on the evictions during the war, but they are now back and settlers backed by Israeli forces are now harassing and attempting to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians living Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
Will the new Israeli government be better for Palestinians?
Most Palestinians and supporters don't think the new government, which was sworn in on June 13, ending the long reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, will reverse course on the evictions. Netanyahu’s replacement, Naftali Bennett, is the leader of the far-right Yamina party and fully supports the establishment of occupation settlements. Naftali also does not believe in Palestinian statehood and wants Israel to annex large swaths of the West Bank.
Discrimination against Palestinians?
Israel has discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies covering property that favor Israel-jews only. It also controls the movement and every other aspect of Palestinian lives, which places them at a severe disadvantage. The Israeli National Parks Authority has declared parts of East Jerusalem national parks, purposely limiting Palestinian construction development. An archeological site was also set up in Silwan and later transferred to Elad, a settler occupation group.
What is The Absentees’ Property Law?
Palestinian homes in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and other areas are being targeted by settlers citing the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law. The 'Israeli Absentee Property Law 1950' ('Absentee Property Law') is the main law in a series of laws that regulate the treatment of property belonging to Palestinians who left, were forced to flee, or were deported during the 1948 War. It denies Palestinians the right to reclaim properties lost in West Jerusalem in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and allows Israeli Jews to reclaim properties "lost" in the same year in East Jerusalem. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has reported that the 1950' Absentees’ law and the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law, are both discriminatory against Palestinians. The laws are based solely on the nationality or origin of the owner and the laws facilitate the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in occupied East Jerusalem.
Who are the settler occupiers displacing Silwan?
The settler occupation group Ateret Cohanim (Crown of Priests) claims Jewish settlers are "legitimate returnees" because they allegedly owned the occupied land in the 19th Century or earlier. The group also claims it “facilitates” the "purchase" of properties owned by Palestinians.
Since the 1980s, hundreds of Jewish occupation settlers have moved into Silwan, some with the help of Ateret Cohanim, leading to an increase in displacement. Jews and Arabs are fighting over who owned what property when, with both sides accusing the other of using faulty or insufficient documents. In most cases, settlers don't leave their newly stolen houses without private armed guards who are paid by the state.
So what happens now in Silwan?
On June 27, 2021 a deadline was set by the Israeli occupation authorities ended for 13 Palestinian families who received orders to self-demolish their homes in the Al-Bustan quarter in Silwan within 21 days. These homes are among 86 homes that the Israeli occupation courts had issued demolition orders against without specifying a date for implementation.
If any of the families refuse to self-demolish their own homes, Israel's occupation government has threatened to demolish the homes themselves and fine their owners with the demolition costs. In addition, at least 119 families across 88 buildings are currently under the threat of ethnic cleansing and home demolition to make room for new Israeli construction projects. The Israeli occupation government has also officially changed Al-Bustan's name to Gan Hamelekh (The King's Garden). Palestinian residents have been forced to share homes with settlers in some cases. Since they were displaced from the Old City in the 1960s, some of these families have lived in Silwan for over 50 years.
Which crime is Israel committing?
The Israeli occupation's policy of home demolitions and destruction of other property affects innocent families. In April, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli authorities “are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” as they pursue the policy “to maintain domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.” At least 3,000 Palestinians in 200 East Jerusalem properties are under threat of eviction. 20,000 Palestinian homes are under threat of demolition for lacking permits that are routinely denied to Palestinians. Such demolitions are regarded as illegal collective punishment and are a violation of international human rights law.