Friday, November 28, 2008

Hard Rains

This is Silwan, an East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood, directly facing the Dung Gate--the Southern access point to the Western Wall and the City of David excavations.  In any conceivable deal with the Palestinian Authority, this neighborhood would be part of the Palestinian capital, not Israel. Yet according to reliable sources, over half the land in this neighborhood, has already been purchased for Jewish settlement, or for expanding the City of David by the East Jerusalem Development Authority (read, Jewish tourism), or by Elad, a non-profit holding company committed to the Judaization of East Jerusalem. (The make-shift signs say: "For 300 settlers, they are destroying the lives of 50,000 residents," and "Some people have hearts of stone.") 

By reliable sources, I mean Hagit Ofran (pictured below), a leader of Peace Now's Settlement Watch project, who rallied a rag-tag group of perhaps a dozen people yesterday to stand vigil in Silwan, after it was discovered that the municipality had plans to begin new road paving, parking lots and "archaeological excavations" here--the city's well-worn pretext for new expropriations of local property. Hagit is (not coincidentally, I suppose) a grand-daughter of Yeshayahu Leibovitz, the crusty philosopher of science and of Halakha, who fought the occupation and the merging of religion and state until his death in 1994. She knows more about the sleight-of-hand cooperation between the municipality and the settlers organizations than just about anyone. She fears that Silwan's fate may be sealed. 

What, after all, can vigils of a couple of hours do against the determined activities of local goverment, non-profits fattened by ingenuous Western Jewish millionaires, and fanatic settlers prepared to live in the neighborhoods they are prepared to ruin? The settlers even provide their own security patrols; one of their SUVs brazenly set out as we stood there, knowing very well they simply had to wait us out.  (You can read an article Hagit co-authored about another lost cause, the Migron settlement, in today's Haaretz.)

The Silwan neighborhood's 200 heads of families elected a committee to fight the encroachment. I asked Jawad Siyam, one of the committee spokesmen, if he could see the point of expropriating property to expand the city's tourism. He said that if the municipality had talked to the house-holders about a plan, or had ever provided day-care, or new schools, or new sewage, or any other kind of municipal services, at least there might have been a conversation. 

But the city has only moved in with plans of its own.  Most recently, it made the street leading to the Dung Gate one-way uphill, so that neighborhood school buses can no longer drop off during the afternoon the children they pick up in the morning without adding a huge loop. "The children will walk.  For some, a ten-minute walk will become more like an hour.  It's not too bad now," Jawad said, "the weather is good. But what about the winter and the hard rains?"