“I am out of choices,” Zuheir Al Rajabi, a leader of the Madaa Creative Center in Silwan, Jerusalem, told me during a recent phone call. Madaa is a long-time, cherished MECA partner in the besieged East Jerusalem Silwan area. “Where will I go? This is my home, and this is my land. No one can accept being uprooted from their homeland. The only choice I have is to stay sumoud (steadfast).”
A few weeks ago, 40 members of the Rajabi family, including children, were thrown out of their home and into the street. Then Israeli bulldozers, backed by dozens of police, knocked down their building. Their crime was trying to expand their house without a permit, which the Israelis refuse to issue to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
“Silwan exemplifies the whole Palestinian story, from the Nakba until today,” says Jawad Siyam, founding director of Madaa and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center. “In the streets, in and even under our houses, everywhere, the Zionists are targeting this village to achieve their goal of emptying Jerusalem of Palestinians, just as the ongoing Nakba is trying to empty all of Palestine of Palestinians.
When we wake up each morning, we don’t know how the day will end: Who will be arrested? Who will be attacked? We don’t control the streets of our village. There are more and more Israeli settlers living inside the village in houses confiscated from Palestinian families. These settlers are armed, and they are protected by private security guards. And then the Israeli army patrols the streets to protect the settlers and the security guards. We can’t even control the inside of our houses because of the tear gas and because they break down our doors and attack us inside, like what happened to Zuheir.
Children are arrested every day. They are interrogated, tortured, put on home arrest, their families are fined. Some end up in prison. In many cases, the settlers living inside our neighborhoods systematically provoke the children or even invent cases against them. For many years now, Madaa has worked to create a space where children can feel safe and play. Now we have opened chapters in different neighborhoods, so the children don’t need to pass security or settlers to get to Madaa. It’s difficult, but we needed to change our approach to reach the children, keep them safe, give them the opportunity to work with psychologists and social workers, to have fun and learn something new.”
Israeli settler violence is increasing everywhere in West Bank and East Jerusalem; recently the tension in Silwan is especially high. Through MECA’s ongoing work, we hear about the day-to-day struggles of the people on the ground. Each time we think it’s the worst that things can get, we are shocked by a new escalation. At the same time, we are so inspired by Silwani sumoud (steadfastness), their commitment to survive, to stay in their village, and to protect their rights.
Jawad says that each day is an unknown for them and for the children, but Madaa is working hard to secure a future that can be known and trusted. Our duty at MECA, with your solidarity and support, is to be a partner in that process.