Sol Salbe of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society just forwarded a powerful profile by former Haaretz reporter, Meron Rapoport, of the East Jerusalem neighborhood, Silwan. Long a poor Arab neighborhood lying just outside the Old City, it has come within the sites of the extremist settler movement, which has been Judaizing it through the eviction of long-time residents and their replacement with settlers. Rapoport did the prose equivalent of Max Blumenthal’s Feel the Hate video by strolling through the neighborhood and engaging Jewish passersby in conversation. In the course of 15 minutes, he heard more hate than you could shake a stick at.
A Hate-Filled Morning
Meron Rapoport, 24th August 2009
Last Thursday was a heat wave, but along the paved stone path that ascends through the centre of Silwan – The City of David, it was more pleasant. Perhaps it was the cool breeze, or the cool stone houses mollifying the air, or maybe it was broad vista of Jerusalem’s mountains. There were three of us – Ilan the director, Michael the cameraman, and me, the interviewee. We were making a film that explores the overt institutional discrimination against this East Jerusalem neighbourhood’s Palestinian residents. It is accompanied by a discrimination in favour of the Jewish settlers who for their part do not hide their desire to “Judaise” the neighbourhood and erase its Palestinian nature.
Even before we manage to position our camera, a group of religious girls comes up the path (we could tell they were religious by their skirts). They were around eight to ten years old, smug and beautiful chatterboxes. One of them slowed down beside us. “Film me”, she said amiably. “What would you like to tell us”, we asked. “I want to say that Jerusalem is a city that belongs to us, the Jews”, she said while walking – “it’s just a shame there are Arabs here. The Messiah will only come when there’s not even a single Arab left here”. She walked on. The girls giggled and sauntered along with her.
Two minutes later, a robust young man arrives carrying a weapon and walkie-talkie, bearing no identification on his clothes. Even before he opened his mouth I surmised that he was a security guard, employed by the private security company, operated by the settlers but financed by the Housing Ministry to the tune of 40 million shekels, annually. This security company has long ago become a private police force that polices the whole neighbourhood and terrorises the Palestinian residents without any legal basis. A committee set up by the Housing Minister determined that this arrangement must be stopped, and that the safety of the inhabitants (both Jewish and Arab) must be in the hands of Israel’s Police force, as applies to the rest of Israel’s citizens. The government adopted the committee’s recommendation in June 2006, but changed its mind six months later. The settlers had been lobbying. The private police continue to operate here.
“What are you doing here”, the young man asked. “What are you doing here”, I asked him. “I’m a security guard”, he answered, “tell me what you’re doing here”. “We’re standing here in the street”, I told him. “Tell me what you’re doing here”, he became irate. “It’s none of your business”, I told him. “What’s your name”, he asked me. “And what’s your name”, I ask him. “Doesn’t matter”, he answered, “I’m a security guard”. “So it doesn’t matter what my name is either”, I replied. The irritated guard talks on his walkie-talkie. Were we Palestinian, we would have long ago been gone. That is the unwritten protocol. But we were Israelis, Hebrew speakers and a problem. Headquarters apparently explained to him that there was nothing he could do, that this was a public area. The guard took his position beside us, with his weapon, and didn’t leave us alone throughout our stay.
We moved our position. Two-three minutes later two young women came up the path. They are seventeen or eighteen years old. Secular, evidently not local residents. One of them stood in front of the camera. “Take my picture”, she fawned. “Do you want to be interviewed”, we asked her. “Yes”, she said. She’s from Gan Yavneh, came to visit Jerusalem, the City of David, she said. “Why the City of David in particular”, we asked. “Because this is where David was a king, this is a very important location for the Jewish people. It’s just a shame there are Arabs here. But soon all the Arabs will die, God willing, and Jerusalem will be ours alone”. She walked on.
Two minutes went by. An Orthodox family came up the path. The husband, dressed in black, asked Ilan the director: “say, do both Arabs and Jews live in this neighbourhood?” “Both Palestinians and Jews”, Ilan replied, “but the majority is Palestinian”. “That’s temporary”, the Orthodox man allayed his concerns; soon there will be no Arabs left here.
I look at Ilan and Michael. Barely a quarter of an hour had passed since we arrived; we had not interrogated anyone about their attitude to Arabs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about the future of Jerusalem. We just stood in the middle of the street. Like pylons. The hatred poured on in our direction, like a river to the ocean. Freely, naturally. “Say”, I asked Ilan. “Will we encounter anyone who’ll tell us something positive, something humane, something good about humankind?” “Forget about humane”, Ilan replied. “Give us someone who’ll say: “what nice air we have here, in Jerusalem’”.
Silwan. Remember the name. Soon it will help you forget Hebron.
(translated by Keren Rubinstein)
For more background on the battle to displace Silwan’s Palestinian residents read this story.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.