Boys play soccer on the new sports fieldThe families of Silwan in East Jerusalem have been living under constant siege for several years. Their land is being stolen under the guise of biblical archaeology. Israeli settlers have taken over Palestinian homes and harass and attack residents daily. “Administrative demolitions” threaten to leave many homeless. Hundreds of people—including children as young as six—have been arrested, beaten by police, and barred from entering the village that their families have lived in for generations.

The people of Silwan have proposed a project to give the children a place to play and, at the same time, help the community hold onto their land.

Sports field update:

In the early morning of February 13, 2012 Israeli forces bulldozed the cultural café and the adjacent sports field that MECA supporters helped build in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Dozens of people responded to MECA’s emergency appeal and a temporary structure was built in just a few weeks.

Today, children are playing soccer, volleyball, and basketball on the sports field that was finished despite enormous difficulties, including harassment and arrest of construction workers, and illegal demolition.

The sports field is also used each summer for Silwan’s Summer Games, a free summer camp for hundreds of children in the neighborhood. From soccer to musical chairs to fun with blow-up fun houses, hundreds of kids had a blast under the shade on the sports field. Campers could take a nice break in the new temporary structure built on the site of the demolished cultural café, and get a nice, cool splash of water from the rebuilt bathroom.

Fighting for the right to play in Silwan, East Jerusalem

By Josie Shields-Stromsness, MECA Program Director, February 2011

“Israel’s greatest weapon against the Palestinians of Jerusalem is not its guns, tear gas, night raids,checkpoints or formidable army. It is its ability to silence dissent and cover its trail of oppression.” -Wadi Hilweh Information Center, Silwan

The Palestinian village of Silwan sits just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, in the occupied east of the city. Approximately 380 Israeli settlers live amidst 55,000 Palestinians. Far-right Israeli organizations-most notably the Elad settlement organization-began taking over Palestinian homes and property in Silwan a few years ago, largely with the support of the Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality. Elad is also responsible for the “City of David” compound, an archaeological site that isoff-limits to Silwan’s Palestinian residents and is another meansof Judaizing the neighborhood.

Palestinian adults and children in Silwan regularly face violence at the hands of the Israeli settlers and the settlement’s security personnel. Israeli police have set up a near-permanent presence in the neighborhood. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a local initiative to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians in Silwan, estimates that 50 percent of the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents are under the age of 18, and 75 percent of these children live below the poverty line.

A recent report from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem uncovers the illegal treatment of Palestinian children in Silwan, where children as young as five have been arrested and interrogated by Israeli police. From November 2009-October 2010, at least 81 children were arrested or detained for questioning, the vast majority on suspicion of stone throwing. Many were ordered to leave the neighborhood, an ethnic cleansing policy that denies them the right to live with their families and continue their schooling.

The Middle East Children’s Alliance and Playgrounds for Palestine are working with Madaa Center, a locally-run community center, to transform three plots of empty land in the Wadi Hilweh area of Silwan into community spaces. Construction has begun on sports fields. The first and only playground in the village and a landscaped area for families to have picnics will follow. This project will offer an opportunity for healing and a healthy play experience for the children of Silwan who suffer from ongoing psychological trauma. In addition to the immense benefits for the
local community, the project is also aimed at protecting the plots of land from being stolen by Israeli settler groups.

Residents are prohibited from building on their land. (Silwan received a total of just 20 building permits from the Israeli authorities in the past 40 years.) So the vast majority of the homes are considered by the state of Israel to have been constructed, expanded, or renovated illegally, and are therefore in danger of being demolished. Similarly, Madaa Center was not able to obtain permits for the community spaces, which complicates plans. For example, a concrete wall would likely be demolished by the Jerusalem municipality so they are building a “natural” wall withstones, which is more time-consuming and costly.

The project, like any initiative from Palestinian residents in Silwan, faces unimaginable obstacles. Two weeks ago, I chatted with the crew working on the sports field site and learned that one of them was picked up at the site and detained overnight by Israeli police. Another worker told me about his brother, Adnan Gheith, who is a community activist fighting home demolitions in Silwan. Israeli authorities have been leading a vicious campaign against him and his political activity in Silwan. There is now an Israeli military order banishing him from Jerusalem for four months.

The day after my visit, Jawad Siyam, the director of Madaa Center, was arrested by Israeli police while working with children at the center. He was released three days later when the Israeli police could not produce evidence against him but then he was arrested again. Jawad is now under house arrest pending another court hearing, and risks being banned from the neighborhood his family has lived in for generations. He has been repeatedly questioned about his activism in the local community, rather than anyalleged crimes, in an effort to intimidate him.

Israeli authorities and settlers will try to stop this project any way possible. Please join our e-mail list for updates and action alerts to support theresidents of Silwan and their right to build play areas for their children.

A concrete wall would likely be demolished by Israeli authorities, so Madaa Center is building a “natural” wall with stones, which is more time-consuming and costly.