A children’s gymnastics team performed at the packed graduation celebration, along with three dance troupes, a choir, musicians, and two hip-hop groups.
Credit: Fidaa Rwaidy

By Jody Sokolower

I recently returned from my third visit to Silwan, a neighborhood just south of the Old City in Jerusalem. In an effort to force Palestinians out of Jerusalem, Israeli developers have tunneled under the neighborhood to create an archeological theme park, Zionist settlers occupy and steal Silwani houses. Children as young as five are arrested and jailed by Israeli police. I haven’t met a boy over the age of ten who hasn’t been arrested.

Silwan is the home of the Madaa Creative Center, one of MECA’s Palestinian partner organizations. On previous trips, I watched children playing in the computer room, reading in the library, practicing hip-hop, and making animated videos. As one mother told me, “Madaa is a lovely place for the kids to breathe. They don’t want the kids to live in the situation of settlers and the occupation all the time. They want them, for a little bit, to be far away from these horrible things.” I was inspired enough to want to write a book about Silwan for teenagers in the United States.

That book is why I was back in Silwan, and this time I had the opportunity to see something special: A big community party for children and women who completed spring classes at Madaa. It was all about joy and pride. The event was held on the cement patio near Madaa’s office. You can see up the hill to Palestinian homes with water cisterns on the roofs, Zionist settler houses flying Israeli flags, and the walls of the Old City at the top. Almost nothing grows these days in densely overcrowded Silwan, but there is a grapevine at the edge of the patio. As we got ready for the party, several women brought out plastic bags and stood on chairs to pick the tender young leaves. A few days later, we had stuffed grape leaves for lunch!

The patio was filled to overflowing with cheering community members sitting in chairs, kids sitting on the ground or on laps, parents standing in the back. A young girl emceed the program. There were three dance troupes performing debka (traditional Palestinian dance), a choir, musicians, a gymnastics group, and two hip-hop groups.

The love and warmth—toward the children, the women, the teachers, the whole community—generated more energy than the sun beating down on us. That love and support are central to the Palestinian determination to stay in Silwan, no matter how brutal the Israeli attacks.

Jody Sokolower is working at MECA as project manager of the Teach Palestine program. Her book on Silwan will be published in the next year.