Community space demolished in East Jerusalem

Palestinians living in Silwan and other areas of East Jerusalem are facing increased attacks from Israeli settler organizations, the Municipality of Jerusalem, the Israeli police, and other official bodies. Life for these Palestinian families is now complicated by endless legal battles and fear of the future. Simple aspects like living in their homes, sending their children to school, and creating spaces for kids to play can't be taken for granted as homes are given over to Israeli settlers or threatened with demolition, children as young as 6-years-old are picked up by Israeli police for interrogation, and, most recently, community centers are destroyed.

In the Wadi Hilweh area of Silwan yesterday, Israeli forces arrived before sunrise to demolish a newly completed community space that residents refer to as a cultural café. The bulldozers arrived without any prior warning. The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority carried out the demolition with Israeli police officers closing off the street and even preventing some nearby families to leave their homes while the demolition was underway.

Jawad Siyam, director of the Madaa Creative Center in Silwan that runs the cultural café and the sports field directly in front of the café, lamented, "This was the only place in the area to meet, to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan." Though Palestinians in East Jerusalem pay taxes to the municipality, the Jerusalem Municipality does not provide services like public parks and community centers so the local communities have to create their own.  Madaa Center built the café with funding from international organizations including the Middle East Children's Alliance, Playgrounds for Palestine, and Warchild International. The Center attempted to get a permit to build the café on this piece of privately-owned land but the Jerusalem Municipality refused. Siyam says Palestinians in Silwan have received less than 40 permits for building since they came under Israeli Occupation in 1967 leaving them with no choice but to carry on construction projects without permits.

Mahmoud Qaraeen from the Wadi Hilweh Information Center lives across the street from the site of the sports field and cultural café. He was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the demolition and he meticulously documented the destruction. Mahmoud explained that this was the 31 demolition in East Jerusalem since the start of 2012, an alarming statistic. He also pointed out that on the same day, a settlers' association took the first of a series of necessary approvals to construct an enormous 16,000 m3 compound just up the hill. Qaraeen says it is well understood that "The municipality is only for West Jerusalem. The only thing we get from them in East Jerusalem is demolitions."

Next Steps

The community is determined to rebuild the café. For local residents, the right to build and live on their land is a constant battle and on they are not prepared to lose. Like many Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, they have adopted the principle that to exist is to resist. Volunteers have already begun sorting through the rubble, salvaging scraps of wood and metal.  Their goal is to complete a new café in time for a Mothers' Day Celebration on March 21, 2012 (Mothers' Day is celebrated across Arab countries on this date).

Siyam  says, "We are also waiting for the bill for the bulldozer." This practice of charging people for demolitions began in 2011. But he continues, "We won't pay for this. Someone from the center might have to go to jail but we will refuse to pay."