Madaa Creative Center Provides Children of Silwan With Comfort, Care and Protection
By Elaine Pasquini, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
In the Palestinian village of Silwan, located outside Bab el-Silwan, one of the entrances in the ancient wall of Jerusalem's Old City, children, as well as their parents and other family members, continue to suffer arrest by Israeli soldiers and harassment and injury by Jewish settlers attempting to take over their historic homeland. (See December 2009 Washington Report, p. 16.)
The Madaa Creative Center, working in partnership with the Berkeley-based Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), offers these children care, comfort and protection. Founded in 2007 by Jawad Siyam, its beloved director, Madaa—"horizon" in Arabic—is open daily from 10 to 5.
On a recent visit to Palestine, this reporter and her photographer husband visited the center, presently located in the Wadi Hilweh Information Center of Silwan. Upon entering the tiny premises, we were shocked to see a collection of military weapons—including tear gas canisters, concussion grenades and rubber bullets—which had been used by Israeli soldiers against the Silwan residents. In a library lined with books, children were drawing and coloring—a favorite activity of children everywhere. In the second room, youngsters were busy on the center's computers, a luxury unavailable in most of their own homes. Due to their harrowing experiences with police or settlers, the children at first were wary of strangers, but eventually warmed up to us, especially after viewing their photographs on a digital camera. On the day of our visit a psychologist from Doctors Without Borders was also on hand to treat some of the children who have been severely traumatized and suffer from aggression, apathy, sleeplessness and bed-wetting.
"The center provides a safe place for the children to come and keeps them off the street, where they are subject to attacks by the military and settlers," explained Silwan resident Ahmad Qaraeen, one of the center's founders. Qaraeen is well acquainted with settler violence, as he was shot in the knee and thigh at close range by an Israeli settler in 2009, necessitating his using a crutch. A year later, in the street in front of the center, another Jewish settler attempted to run him down with his automobile.
In addition to the rooms at the information center, Madaa's activities are conducted in rented apartment units or small houses or offices. MECA is attempting to raise $43,000 to enable Madaa to purchase the main building it has been renting, which houses the youth club, music, dance, theatre, art and women's activities, along with a support program for children who have been arrested.
"Purchase of this building is crucial to Madaa's day-to-day work," said MECA director Barbara Lubin. "It means a better life for families today and a way to hold onto the land for the future."
Located on Jerusalem's southeastern slopes, Silwan was illegally annexed by Israel in 1967, and its residents given the orange identity cards which denote residency, rather than the blue ones denoting Israeli citizenship. Since then the Israeli government has failed to provide adequate or proper educational facilities, and the infrastructure is neglected and crumbling. Half of Silwan's 55,000 residents are under age 18, and according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 75 percent of the children live below the poverty line. To donate to help the children of Silwan, visit https://www.mecaforpeace.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=28.