The Palestininan community of Silwan in East Jerusalem sits at a geographically important location for the Israeli regime as it is located right below the Old City. The regime has, for decades, expanded its domain by expropriating the land of Palestinian families who have live there for generations.
In Silwan live about 18% of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem; it is home to 55,000 residents. Silwan was at one point recognized as «the center of the intifada» in the 1980s, due to its politically active and organized society.
Israeli forces have for decades expropriated the land of Silwanian families in order to accommodate Jewish settlers and to expand the Jewish touristic and religious enterprise. The Elad Association, the richest and most powerful Jewish settlement association, has enforced its occupying power to slowly turn Silwan into a Jewish region by monopolizing on the history of the region while dismissing the historical importance it has for Palestinian families.
The settler association continues to appropriate Palestinian land on the grounds that it is a territory of ‘archeological, historical, and religious importance’ as well as making use of its monopoly of the law, by expropriating homes under the ‘absentee property law.’ In addition, 11 touristic parks have replaced hundreds of Palestinian homes.
Today, close to 65% of Silwanians face house demolition orders
These harsh conditions have led Silwanians to resist in whatever ways they can. A large majority of Silwanians have a family member or know someone who has been injured, arrested, or killed by settlers and the occupying Israeli forces. Confrontations with settlers and Israeli forces are weekly realities.
The Wadi Hilweh Information Center has supported the community in its struggle of resisting the expansionist Israeli regime. Led by activist Jawad Siyam, the center provides legal aid to battle house demolition orders in court. The Center also provides psychological services to children and provides educational and recreational events for the community. The Center also aims at informing tourists from all around the world about the true history of Silwan.
Jawad himself has been arrested 16 times since he started his activist work, but he knows that his love for his community and for the future of his children and all Palestinians comes at a big cost. «We all know here that our work will take us to prison, but this is the sacrifice we have chosen to make.» In fact, most of the leadership at the Wadi Center have been injured or imprisoned. The Center also documents through video and testimonies the oppression of the Israeli regime.
Families Also Resist in Their Every Day Life
Such is the case of Samir Riwadi, a man who has resisted the occupation´s land expropriation project since 1969 when the house he lives in, which belonged to his grandfather, was at risk of being expropriated by Israel after his grandfather died.
Samir lives in a house that is of great importance to him, his family, and his own history. He is a religious devotee who has made the journey to Mecca, and has 4 sons and 6 daughters. He was born and raised in this house. His oldest brother was buried in this house and his mother got married in this house. This house, however, is not only important to Samir and his family, but it is targeted by the Israeli regime because of its geographical location: it is the only Palestinian house standing in the north side of the city of Silwan, very close to the Old City. The surrounding areas have been expropriated by Israel throughout the past decades.
This is the reason why Samir has had to battle Israel for decades on the court in order to keep his house and his land.
The legal battle has been fought against a regime that violates the law in order to continue its expansionist agenda:
With a slight change of Samir´s grandfather´s name, «Salem,» Israel had claimed that the house belonged to a so-called «Saleem,» (with double «e») claiming that this person had died in Jordan. The house and the land, according to their narrative, now belongs to them as it is written under the «absentee property law». The only resource that Israel has had to battle this case is one false witness.
Samir´s house was demolished by settlers who claimed they were «doing him a favor» as he would have had to pay for the demolition cost if he would have done it himself. The house was demolished with absolutely everything inside.
With the legal help of the Wadi Hilweh Center , Samir has been able to win the case in court. He has spent thousands of dollars to clean up and to rebuild the house. He and his sons have been rebuilding the house for years. Although Samir has been able to keep his house, he lost the land behind his house, which now has a metallic fence guarded by an Israeli armed guard. He also lost a piece of land where now lies a new road built for touristic purposes where Jewish tourist walk delightfully without ever becoming aware of the history behind this road. The Jewish touristic enterprise is slowly erasing the memory and history of Silwan.
Despite having won a small battle, the Wadi Hilweh Center believes that Samir will most likely get another demolition order soon.
Samir has resisted since the end of the 60s, and continues to do so: «I hope this house remains a thorn in the throat of Israel» he exclaims.
This is the situation of most Silwanian families, who have for decades resisted the occupation. «They demolish, and we built. This is our life,» explains Jawad as he shows us a demolished house in the area.
Not even the Wadi Hilweh Center, which provides a safe space for the community and the children, is immune to demolition. The Cultural Center, established by the Wadi Center, was demolished a few years ago by the insistence of the National Park Authority. Under the Israeli regime, the touristic enterprise has a priority over human existence.
This reality has shaped the collective consciousness of the people of Silwan. Families know that despite the threats of demolition, they will never be homeless because the community will support them and provide for them. Their children know they have a safe place to practice their right to live a life without war and violence thanks to the work of the Wadi Hilweh Center. The youth also have a space where they can express their hopes and tribulations through music and the arts, and women are becoming the new leaders as they coordinate dozens of activities for the community each week.
Despite the hundreds of stories of repression, deaths and demolitions, the people of Silwan are singing in a unified voice for justice. Each voice of resistance, however weak it may seem, echoes in the ears of the empire, because it believes to have silenced every single voice with its violence.