After lunch on Sunday, Faraj, our Palestinian guide, took us to Silwan – an area where there is always the threat of a clash between Palestinians and settlers. Faraj asked if we could visit a home which he could see had a rooftop view of the Silwan. The man there inquired as to why we would want to come. When Faraj told him it was to better understand the area, he and his children kindly took us to their rooftop patio which afforded a spectacular view up to the walls of the Old City, the Kidron Valley, and up to the Mt. of Olives.
Silwan is home to about 32,000 Palestinians. In the last decade, both the City of David and Silwan have become the scene of controversy because of archeological excavations by the Israeli government and their efforts to demolish the houses of many residents, as well as the movement of Jewish settlers into Silwan. Adjacent to the couple’s house was a temporary synagogue operating out of a tent erected within a chain link fence.
In the valley below, Faraj pointed out an area where 88 houses have been under demolition orders since 2005 (the end of the Second Intifada). The municipality of Jerusalem has put out orders to demolish the houses so as to recreate the “gardens of Solomon” which once covered the valley floor. During these same years, Palestinians and their Israeli supporters have been protesting these development plans, to the point that there is a permanent “protest tent” erected in the neighborhood. A number of non-governmental organizations have been assisting with lawsuits seeking to overturn the demolition orders. Evidently even Prime Minister Netanyahu has pressed the municipal government to put the development project on hold. He and other leaders fear that if it proceeds, it could unleash a major wave of protests and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
While Faraj was explaining the situation to us, the couple’s daughter and son (ages 6 and 10) served us fruit juice in little plastic cups, demonstrating the hospitality for which Middle Eastern families are famous. We were all touched by the contrast between their innocence and the controversies that surround their lives every day.