In a valley, just down a hill from the City of David and the Mount of Olives lies the village of Silwan. Or at least, most of it. For every four or five homes standing, lies a demolished lot overgrown with shrubbery, or simply piles of rubble.
Since Israel claimed East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, it has been steadily demolishing Palestinian homes in the name of “improving infrastructure” and “beautification.”
After kicking a ball about with a couple of camera-shy kids, a young man cheerfully greeted me with a “Welcome to Palestine.” It dawned on me then that I was in a different country, perhaps a late realisation after seeing the modern West Jerusalem and the ragtag East.
Smiling in the face of adversity
A well-dressed Palestinian man looked on as a friend of mine was stumbling past an old bed, disused electrical appliances and battered children’s toys up the remains of a family home.
He watched us for a minute or two, possibly deciding whether to speak with us – the Israeli police don’t take kindly to Palestinians speaking with foreigners. After we greeted him, he came over and started to tell us his tale, a story, any seem to share in this troubled region.
“My grandfather built this land 80 years ago and I built this house in 1962,” he said. “A few years after the Israeli’s took over in ’67, the Jerusalem government told me I didn’t have a permit. Why do I need a permit? This was our family home from before the occupation.”
Looking up to a settlement complete with an Israeli flag just up the hill, he told us that the pile of rubble we were standing by was his neighbour’s home until August,” the father of five said in excellent English.
Home Sweet Home
It takes the Israeli army about 20 minutes to do this to a home.
“My children ask me why the authorities do this. They think that the police only arrest bad people, and ask why my neighbours’ homes are being demolished. There is no answer I can give,” the man said. “I don’t know when they will take my home. I feel I we have a dark future. If you ask for a lawyer when they come, they allow this. But when you go to call a lawyer, they start the demolition. There is nothing you can do.
The man went to talk about how he knows of many families who have been made homeless and forced to impose on friends every few weeks. He also offered a reason for the Palestinians’ intifada or “shaking off” of the Israelis.
“Why do you think people resort to violence? We are not violent people, but when people see their families and friends’ lives destroyed, they have to react. We are not extremists, but we have to do something.”
I didn’t catch the man’s name, nor did I take his photograph. The reason for this was because he always seemed to be on the verge of tears. He struck me to be decent man, educated, and almost middle class, doing his best to raise his family respectably.
I wonder how many share the same story. I’m reliably informed that many do.