[The following article is
extracted from the March-April 2008 issue of The Other Israel.]
King David, Silwan and
the decent rabbi
"Rabbi arrested with connection to East Jerusalem incitement." No,
this was not about one of those extreme-right "spiritual leaders"
openly exhorting their followers to indiscriminate violence against East
Jerusalem Palestinians. The rabbi who spent a night in detention was Rabbi Arik
Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights for "inciting Silwan residents to
disobey the police."
south of the Old City of Jerusalem, has already been in the headlines many times
before. Its tens of thousands of Palestinian inhabitants have the great
misfortune of having some archaeological remnants found in their vicinity
"from the time of the Biblical King David." This identification,
however, is speculative and strongly contested by historians and
archaeologists. However, a certain David Be'eri, who first arrived at Silwan in
1986 in his then role as the undercover commander of an elite military unit,
took it seriously enough that he appointed himself to the mission of restoring
the site's ancient Jewish glories — by means of eradicating its Arab present.
Association, which Be'eri founded and still heads, has been aggressively taking
over more and more houses and lands in Silwan, on the most flimsy legal
grounds. For example, on March 9, 2006 some 50 armed settlers
broke into the Silwan house of Ibrahim Ghozlan, evicting him and his family,
and claiming that they acquired the rights to the building from an earlier
Jewish association which bought it from its Palestinian owner as early as 1923.
seller, it turned out, had been only six years old in 1923. Nevertheless,
police accepted the new status quo, preventing members of the Ghozlan family
from approaching the house. Later, it was surrounded with barbed wire
entanglements patrolled by security guards — funded by the government — and a
huge Israeli national flag hoisted from the roof, as in earlier occupied Silwan
house, for which Elad could not find even this kind of legal pretext and whose
owners refused tempting offers to sell, happened to be the target of an massive
raid by police, who broke down the doors and turned the house upside down while
"looking for drugs" (none were found).
groups had some successes in their efforts to help the Silwan residents stem
the settler tide. The takeover of some Palestinian homes was prevented — and of
others, delayed for years — by prolonged legal and public struggle. Israelis
also held several summer camps in Silwan and helped rebuild houses demolished
by the Jerusalem municipality (which
claimed such demolitions were "unconnected" to presence of settlers
just next door). And when it turned out that the Jerusalem Municipality failed
to notice the settlers erecting — without asking for any kind of permit — a
massive seven-floor structure on a piece of seized Silwan land, a judge ordered
the settlers vacated and the structure sealed with concrete blocks.
In 2005, a
big outcry, in Israel and internationally,
prevented the Jerusalem Municipality from carrying out an
announced plan — believed to be inspired by the Elad settlers — for the massive
destruction of 88 Silwan houses, which were to be replaced by a big park with
the name "King David's Garden." And the Registrar of Associations
began proceedings about Elad's refusal to divulge the sources of donations
totaling over $7 million that the settler association received in 2005.
despite such setbacks to their cause the Elad settlers succeeded in establishing
what Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz described as "a veritable empire."
Particularly, the government authorized them to run the "City of David
Archaeological Garden." It covers a large and expanding area, and is
energetically promoted by the Ministry of Tourism in the glossy brochures
provided to foreign visitors (in which the presence of Palestinians in the
vicinity is in no way hinted at).
government authorised Elad to continue archeological excavations on the site,
which it immediately embarked upon and in no time announced the uncovering
of... yes, King David's Palace.
Elad's archaeological digs, an increasing number of cracks appeared in
Palestinian houses, and Silwan's main street repeatedly caved in — for which
the settlers and their pet archaeologists denied all responsibility, while
blocking "interfering outsiders" from any access to their tunnels.
February 7, Silwan residents held a demonstration and established a protest
tent on a privately owned plot adjacent to the Elad "Visitors Center." Israeli
activists started distributing leaflets to visiting tourists, and an
Alternative Archaeological Tour was established, covering historical periods
omitted from the Elad-sponsored tours. Knesset Member Yossi Beilin of Meretz
came to the spot, but the settlers refused to let him inspect their tunnels,
where diggings continued under police protection.
10, a number of Silwan residents, apprehensive lest diggings threaten their
homes with collapse, lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court. The following night
they were lifted from their beds and arrested, charged with "sabotaging
the Elad archaeologists announced that they had discovered parts of an ancient
roadway used by Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Temple; uncovering the full
length was, they said, their manifest duty to Jewish history and heritage.
interpretation of Judaism was offered by Rabbi Arik Ascherman. Citing the
ancient precept "Where nobody is acting as a decent human being, try to be
one" from the Talmudic Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Ascherman
threw himself in and by his presence made the police/settler game more
afterwards pointed out that his detention had been far more brief and easy than
what some Silwan residents recently endured — and still got more attention.
Fellow Rabbis came to the courtroom to express solidarity. More Rabbis wrote
extensive shocked and outraged reactions from America.
after his release, on March 18, the Supreme Court issued an unequivocal order
to halt immediately and completely the settler diggings at Silwan. But as is
their frequent habit, the judges "counter-balanced" this by a
negative ruling on another contentious issue, and approved the exclusion of
Palestinian motorists from the notorious Highway 443 ("Apartheid Road").
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