Palestinians prepare to throw stones at Israeli police in Silwan.
“At 3:30 or 4am I heard some noise outside of my window,” Silwan resident Abdallah Rajmi told me as we stood on a narrow street in the middle of a battle between young Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli occupation forces from the Border Police. “I thought it was a simple drunken fight but then I heard a lot of noise coming from the people involved and my neighbors began waking up.”
Silwan is a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, near the walled Old City, and is the target of an ongoing Israeli government plan to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes and replace them with Israeli settlements and a Jewish-themed park.
Rajmi recalled the events as tear gas and rocks were being thrown from both sides onto the alley where we were standing. “At this point I went to my roof to see what was happening and I saw three settler guards with ‘small weapons’ approach a group of young Palestinian men,” referring sarcastically to the guards’ large Uzi assault riles. “The guards began shooting the men and everyone in Silwan woke up.”
At this point, we had to move to the entrance of Rajmi’s house because a storm of rocks started to rain down on us and the Border Police began to use rubber-coated steel bullets.
Israeli police fire tear gas at demonstrators.
Silwan residents walk past Israeli police.
“I could not believe my eyes. I saw a man lying in his own blood and dying. The settler guards had just shot him in cold blood and watched him dying. He was there, on the ground, for one hour until an Israeli ambulance arrived on the scene, of course they would not allow any of us to get near him. The Israelis did, however, bring over forty settler guards and Border Police to the scene before the he was moved.”
The dead man was named as Samir Sarhan, aged about 30 according to news reports, and the father of five children.
Rajmi spoke clearly while looking me straight in the eye but once could see the rage simmering over the killing. “This is not a good situation. This is an extremely hard situation and I think that chaos is going to break out here,” he said. “If another one dies from his wounds sustained last night, I think that Silwan is going to blow up. You just wait and see what happens during the funeral march.” The procession was to end at a cemetery near the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Indeed, Rajmi was correct about the unrest in Silwan boiling over. I had been in the neighborhood since 8am, right when the protests of stone throwing at Israeli Border Police started. Silwan sits in a deep valley and the area has many small winding alleys. Thus pockets of resistance were surfacing all over the place as groups of young Palestinians would sneak up on Israeli forces and rain stones upon them with calls of “leave this place” and “this is not your place, leave now!” Border Police reacted with waves of tear gas which would cover the village including the houses where women and children were hiding from the street fighting. At points, the Israeli forces would use rubber-coated steel bullets from very close range, which has often resulted in permanent or lethal injuries. Tires were set on fire and trash cans overturned. It was hard not to think of images of the second Palestinian intifada as I was trying to get photographs.
Samir Sarhan’s funeral in Silwan.
This situation continued for five hours throughout Silwan. Pockets of stone-throwing here and there while tear gas covered the whole village as a form of collective punishment. Eventually, the funeral march began with calls of “God is great!” and every resident of Silwan came to the street to join the procession. As the funeral march wound its way through the narrow streets, people began attacking every settler house, car or bit of infrastructure in its path. Eventually, at the entrance of Silwan right next to the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, and the “City of David” settler complex, the crowd exploded with rage and full-scale destruction began. Windows were smashed in the front of the City of David building and Israeli Border Police cars were flipped over and set on fire.
As the group moved closer to the al-Aqsa compound, a number of public buses from the Israeli company Egged were on the road. Angry Silwan residents expressed their frustration and began to destroy every window and surface of the buses possible. At one point, people entered the buses in order to rip out their seats. This happened while the bus driver was still inside. The procession reached the al-Aqsa compound and the tension died down but news agencies are now reporting that stone throwing from the al-Aqsa compound plateau began when the funeral was over and Israeli troops had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Rajmi told me that the violence is only going to grow because of this murder. I have received word from him that one of the wounded victims from the shooting had just succumbed to his wounds. His name was not immediately available.
Surely this death could be a spark for further violence, which the people of Silwan seem to be prepared for. Unlike the “Fayyadism” — official Palestinian Authority cooperation with the Israeli occupation —that is taking over Ramallah, the people of Silwan are ready to resist and fight regardless of the price in occupied East Jerusalem.
All images by Joseph Dana.
Joseph Dana, a writer and filmmaker living in Jerusalem, is active in direct action groups such as Taayush and Anarchists Against the Wall. His website is josephdana.com.