3 January 2010

From ISM

At around 4pm, on Saturday 2 January 2010 part of a main road in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan collapsed. The section of road runs above tunneling work carried out by the Elad settler organisation. Despite the road collapsing in the mid-afternoon, it was not until 8pm that Israeli police arrived at the scene, after an Israeli bus serving the settler population drove into the hole in the road.

Silwan is a Palestinian village on the hills south of the Old City of Jerusalem, captured in 1967 by the Israeli army. It is one of several neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem where the Israeli state and settler organisations are forcing Palestinians from their homes. Almost 90 houses in the area are currently threatened with demolition, potentially displacing 1,000 – 1,500 residents and no construction permits have been issued for Palestinians in the area since 1967. Excavation works represent another threat to Palestinian residents; literally undermining their homes.

Tunneling by the Elad settler organisation, which also runs the ‘City of David’ tourist site in Silwan, has been frequently criticised for undermining the Palestinian neighbourhood. Elad director David Be’eri was filmed admitting that his excavations are carried out under people’s houses. He described the excavation method in which “we built from the top down” and “everything’s standing in the air” [due to the removal of fill]. “Then [the engineer] says: ‘you have to shut the whole thing’ [because of danger of collapse]. I tell him: ‘are you crazy?’”

Land located under people’s houses is considered their property under Israeli law, and digging in densely populated areas without the permission of property owners is therefore illegal. Despite this, ‘archaeological’ digging continues throughout the Old City and its surroundings with the complicity of Israeli authorities, police and courts. Also in the tape mentioned above, made about a year ago, the founding head of Elad, David Be’eri, says: “At a certain point we came to court. The judge approached me and said, ‘you’re digging under their houses.’ I said ‘I’m digging under their houses? King David dug under their houses. I’m just cleaning.’ He said to me, ‘Clean as much as possible.’ Since then, we’re just cleaning; we’re not digging.”

Less than six months ago a large part of the same road gave way meters from the most recent collapse. Local people say they are concerned that their homes may also collapse in the future. Subsidence caused by the tunneling is visible on buildings and roads around the excavation area. A Palestinian kindergarten opened in 1990 is located directly next to the opening of the tunnel. In recent months several large cracks have appeared in the building. Classes were affected by today’s road collapse. Several children protested the undermining of their school and the whole area.

This afternoon, work was underway to repair the collapsed area. Reconstruction is expected to take between one and two days, further disrupting the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, residents of Silwan remain concerned that future collapses will be more dangerous.

NOTE: Elad, the association that runs the dig, works together with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the excavations are headed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University  of Jerusalem.