“My family which consists of twenty-one members has two houses in Al-Bustan, and another one in Batn AlHawa neighborhoods of Silwan in Jerusalem. In these three houses our existence is threatened with Israeli ethnic cleansing.
While the Israeli authorities want to demolish our two houses in Al-Bustan under the pretext that they were built without a permit, which we never obtain from the discriminatory Jerusalem municipality, they want to expel us from our home in Batn Al Hawa and replace us with Jewish settlers,” narrates Qutayba Odeh, a Palestinian resident of Silwan. Qutayba goes on saying:
“What my family faces echoes what hundreds of other Palestinian families living in Jerusalem encounter. Regardless of the difference of Jerusalem neighborhoods in terms of names, be it Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan or the Old City of Jerusalem, our cause and plight are the same.”
“They [the Israeli occupation authorities],” Qutayba bitterly adds, “seek to reduce us to a minority in Jerusalem to enable Jewish settlers to become a majority. We reject to live the same Nakba [catastrophe] that our forefathers and foremothers experienced before.
“Tomorrow, there will be a court hearing for families from Batn AlHawa…. Through its municipality and settler organizations, the Israeli occupation seeks to commit a war crime in Silwan.
More than six neighborhoods in Silwan are threatened with forcible expulsion and ethnic cleansing… this crime is committed through the municipality of Jerusalem, which is responsible for demolishing Palestinian buildings constructed without a permit and through settler organizations operating in Jerusalem and centering its settlement expansion activities in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and inside the Old City of Jerusalem.
Qutayba, his family and many other families threatened with ethnic cleansing are plagued with an apartheid system that aims to fulfill further objectives of the settler colonial project of Israel: eliminating the existence of Palestinians on their land to make way for Jewish settlers to live on it.
Silwan imminent ethnic cleansing: A culmination of a prolonged process
About 55, 000 Palestinians live in the village of Silwan, located a stone’s throw away from the southern part of AlAqsa Mosque. It includes the neighborhoods of Wadi Qadoum, Ras Al-Amoud, Ein Al-Loza, Al-Thowri, Al-Shiyah, Wasat Al-Balad, Kharat Al-Tank, Bir Ayoub, Hart-Al-Yaman, Al-Bustan, Wadi Hilweh, Wadi Yasul and Batn AlHawa.
Like all Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the residents of Silwan are ‘permanent residents, a temporary stateless status, where Palestinians there are treated like foreign visitors who come and reside in Israel.
Since the Israeli occupation and unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, the settler colonial gaze of Israel has turned towards Silwan and other areas in the city of Jerusalem, including the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah.
Since then, Palestinian residents of Silwan have been enduring Israeli systematic violence as part of the coercive measures to expel them from their homes: Home demolition, transfer of houses in the area to Israeli settlers, and violence of settlers and Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians there.
On top of that, Palestinians in Silwan are at risk due to the constant Israeli underground archeological excavations in the area, that are aimed at unburying traces of the three-millennia-old First and Second Jewish Temples, which some Jews believe were built where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands.
The tunnel and channel excavations in the area, which are carried out by El-Ad, a private Jewish settler organization in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority, have caused damages in roads and several houses in Silwan.
With the hammer digging Silwan, Israeli discriminatory laws, and Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian houses and rifles expelling Palestinians by force from their homes in Silwan, Israel seeks to solidify the existence of about 400 settlers living in what was once Palestinian houses, and pave the way for more settlers to steal Palestinian homes.
According to Sami (a pseudonym), “the prolonged, yet recently accelerated ethnic cleansing of Silwan is part of a larger scheme: Effacing Palestinian existence in the areas circling the Old City of Jerusalem; many of the threatened areas will be transformed to national parks once Palestinians are expelled from there.”
Collusion between the state and its organizations= Effective apartheid
Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have not approved a master plan for Silwan, and building permits for new Palestinian homes or expansion of existing ones are almost impossible to obtain.
Due to the lack of building permits, with the natural increase in the population, Palestinian inhabitants have no other choice but to build without a permit. In response, the Israeli authorities impose huge fines – many families owe hundreds of thousands of shekels. In the end, most Palestinian homes built without a permit are demolished, resulting in forcible displacement of the Palestinian residents.
In a desperate attempt to thwart Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses built without a permit, Sami states, “the residents of threatened houses have been negotiating since 2007 with the municipality of Jerusalem through their lawyers and provided structural plans so that the already built houses become protected from demolition.”
He adds, “yet, the municipality have recently rejected the plans starting the countdown for bulldozing hundreds of houses in Silwan, particularly in Batn Alhawa.”
Sami asserts that “the Israeli occupation authorities have accelerated the ethnic cleansing of Silwan and other parts of Jerusalem. They have been emboldened by the recognition of the Trump administration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as by the infamous signing of normalization deals between Israel and some oppressive Arab regimes.”
Today, about 700 houses in Silwan are threatened with demolition. The Palestinians inhabiting these houses wake up every day expecting it to be the last day for them in their homes before Israeli bulldozers come and raze them to the ground, with their dreams and aspirations buried underneath the rubble.
In addition to using the discriminatory permit system as a justification to demolish Palestinian houses, and, accordingly, expel Palestinians from Silwan, the Israeli occupation authorities started applying its Absentee Property law once it occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967.
Palestinians who lived outside the new municipal boundaries of Jerusalem yet owned land or property inside the city limits have been defined as ‘absentees.’
To ensure the pillage of more Palestinian houses in Jerusalem, the Israeli government passed the ‘Law and Administration Procedures Law’ in 1970. This law pertains to property owned by Jews prior to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. The Israeli Custodian of ‘absentee property’ has the authority to release these properties to their pre-1948 owners or their heirs. This, of course, does not apply to millions of Palestinians expelled from their homes either in Jerusalem or other parts of Palestine in 1948.
Through ‘Absentee Property’ law, the 1970 law, fake documents falsely proving Jewish ownership of Palestinian houses and fraudulent sales, government-backed Jewish settler organizations like the Jewish National Fund, El’ad and Ateret Cohanim are actively engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from some 90 houses located in Batn Alhawa and elsewhere and elsewhere in Jerusalem.
In its study titled, “A Threshold Crossed,” Human Rights Watch sheds light on the activities of these settler organizations within the framework of apartheid. The internationally influential human rights organization asserts:
“In the city [Jerusalem], Israel effectively maintains one set of rules for Jewish Israelis and another for Palestinians […] Beyond formal state confiscation, discriminatory laws and policies enable settler and settler organizations to take possession of Palestinian homes, evict the Palestinian landowners, and transfer their property to Jewish owners in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.”
Ghettoization of Jerusalem
The ethnic cleansing of different areas in Jerusalem, particularly its eastern part seized in the 1967 War, has been in place the moment the Israeli occupation forces occupied the city. The acceleration of ethnic cleansing seen in the imminent expulsion of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, who number about 7850 people in the two neighborhoods is just a continuation of what started decades ago.
Indeed, the expulsion of 7850 people is an operation of mass ethnic cleansing of an occupied people. Yet, in 2002, many of the world governments watched with deafened ears and blinded eyes a much bigger mass ethnic cleansing of about 225, 000 Palestinians from Jerusalem. This took place when Israel started the construction of a 181-kilometer-high apartheid wall on our land around Jerusalem. The construction of Israel’s Wall surrounding Jerusalem is almost complete today.
By building the Wall, Israel isolated from Jerusalem 22 villages that historically used to be part of the borders of Jerusalem. Some of these villages were already excluded from the municipality of Jerusalem right after the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Others, including, Kufr Aqab, Eastern Sawahri, Shufat Refugee Camp, Dahiyat Assalam, Sameeramees, AlWalajeh and Qalandya used to be part of the Jerusalem municipality even after 1967.
Through isolating these 22 villages, the Israeli authorities aimed at changing the demography of Jerusalem in favor of Jewish settlers.
They attempted to deny Palestinians living in these villages their rights to the city. These Palestinians hold a so-called ‘permanent residency’, which allows them to be connected to Jerusalem and live inside the limits of the city as determined by the Israeli authorities. Yet, this plan had a boomerang effect on Israel. Many Jerusalemites left these isolated villages to live inside the city during the early years of the Wall construction in order to preserve their ‘permanent residency’ status.
Hence, the Israeli authorities allowed Jerusalemites to live in the villages that used to be part of the Jerusalem municipality. They even put no restrictions on Palestinian construction in these areas like Kufr Aqab to encourage Palestinians who are denied construction permits inside Jerusalem to reside in these areas.
According to the coordinator of Stop the Wall Jamal Juma’, who is also a Jerusalemite living in Kufr Aqab,
“Israel has been silently ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Jerusalem by allowing them to build without a permit in the areas isolated by the Wall.
These areas lack adequate infrastructure that meet human needs. They are marginalized and underdeveloped Bantustans.
For instance, before the construction of the Wall, Kufr Aqab used to have a population of about 15,000 people. Nowadays, it has reached about 100,000 people living in a now completely overcrowded neighbourhood.
On top of that, we are sure that one day Israel will strip us of the ‘permanent residency’ status and totally isolate us from Jerusalem.”
Israel imposes on Palestinians an apartheid system in order to continue ethnically cleansing Palestinians. The ongoing and escalated ethnic cleansing campaign of Jerusalem is only one among other ethnic cleansing campaigns across Historic Palestine.
AlAraqeeb Bedouin community in the Naqab desert in present-day Israel has been demolished 180 times and people are steadfast awaiting the next demolition raid.
The Bedouin community of Humsa in the Jordan Valley, occupied West Bank was demolished six times in less than four months. Recently, Israel has undertaken the intensification of its water apartheid practices against Humsa residents denying them access to water as another measure to expel them after the steadfastness of the community rendered demolition as a failed tool of ethnic cleansing.
Through this, Israel seeks to fulfill the Zionist vision of a constructed ethnic homogeneity, where the presence of any Palestinian is seen as a failure in realizing this racist vision.