Despite house arrest, Jerusalem activist will fight for Silwan

Jawad Siyam (on the left, in striped shirt) at a demonstration in Silwan. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)


Palestinian activist Jawad Siyam has been under house arrest for nearly three months after being accused of attacking a Palestinian neighbor in the occupied East Jerusalem village of Silwan. The Director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, Siyam categorically denies the allegation. He says that the real reason he has been targeted is because of his political activities and resistance to the take-over of Silwan by right-wing Israeli settler organizations.

Largely supported by the Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality, the right-wing Elad settler organization is taken over various Palestinian homes in Silwan. It is also responsible for the “City of David” compound, an archaeological site that is off-limits to Silwan’s Palestinian residents and which, they say, is another means to Judaize the neighborhood.

On Wednesday, 30 March, an Israeli judged ordered that Jawad Siyam be released from house arrest, ruling that the state had insufficient evidence against him. Less than 24 hours later, however, Jerusalem police re-arrested him on charges that he once again attacked the same Palestinian neighbor in Silwan. Released without any conditions after spending the night at the Russian Compoud prison facility, Siyam was once again arrested on Sunday, 3 April. He was sentenced to five days under full house arrest.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours spoke to Siyam about his recent arrest, what life is like for Palestinians in Silwan, and what he thinks will happen in the future.

JKD: You have been under house arrest for nearly three months now. Can you talk about what the Israeli police have accused you of?

JS: Actually, the pressure [was on me all the time] in the last two years. They were investigating me from time to time, trying to put pressure on me, to threaten me, in order to close the [Wadi Hilweh] Information Center all the time. They didn’t have enough material or they didn’t have material at all to accuse me or to put me in the jail. So they came with a new story, telling that I am attacking or I am investigating some Palestinians working for the settlers and for the Israeli authorities.

They accused me of attacking a [Palestinian] man called Mazen al-Qaq. He said that I attacked him. They arrested me for the first time from the Center here. They came and took me. I stayed four days in the jail and then they sent me to house arrest.

Then they came with a new story that I attacked the guy again and that I want to kidnap his son. It was clear [that al-Qaq] was a liar but this didn’t help to release me from the house arrest. It was clear that the police was working a lot with this guy Mazen al-Qaq in order to make a file for me because they knew that the first case was very weak.

All the time they were investigating me on the political level and on my activities in the neighborhood and even outside of the neighborhood. This is not against occupation law, but they want to show now that I am very violent and using violence to reach my goals. They say that I am organizing children to throw stones and I am the guy who is in touch with [head of the Palestinian Islamic Movement in Israel] Sheikh Raed Salah and many other things to show how criminal I am, in order to affect the court decision.

JKD: Why do you think that the Israeli authorities have targeted you?

JS: Because of my activity in Silwan. What we are doing here in Silwan, it’s like changing the face of the neighborhood. What the settlers tried in the last years was to make the Palestinian identity not [exist] in this neighborhood. I am working on this level to prove that Silwan has a Palestinian identity and Silwan is a part of the future capital of Palestine. It’s a part of al-Quds [Jerusalem].

They want us to shut up. They want us not to say anything.

JKD: What impact has the Wadi Hilweh Information Center had on the Palestinian community in Silwan?

JS: The Information Center is providing news, providing awareness to the Palestinians, telling about the history of our village, telling what is happening behind the [City of David] tourist site — that it is ignoring the fact that we are here — and insisting on the Palestinian identity of this neighborhood.

48 hours after the opening of the Information Center we got a demolition order. So they are telling us, if you want to be here you can be here, but be quiet and agree on the agenda of the settlers. If you don’t agree on the agenda of the settlers, we will cause you trouble. And this is what happens. Everyone who is against the agenda of the settlers is in trouble.

JKD: What influence do the Israeli settlers have on what happens in Silwan?

JS: The settlers are controlling the police stations all over Jerusalem. They are controlling the municipality. They tell what should happen here, and what shouldn’t happen. You can see it very clearly: if there is any struggle, any protest, the settlers come and point to the police who should they arrest and who they shouldn’t. Actually the police, we call them the slaves of the settlers. The police is not a police. It’s becoming a kind of militia for the settlers.

JKD: What do you want people to know about your case and about what’s happening in Silwan and occupied East Jerusalem?

JS: Israelis don’t understand that we love our land. We will not leave our land. They do not understand that once they catch Jawad and put him in the jail, they will have even more Jawads on the streets. That is very clear.

Each time they arrest me, each time they try to make me problems, there are more and more people coming and showing support and they ask me what they can do. If you come to my house, you will see tens of people coming every day in order to show support and in order to say that they are willing to work for the Center and do activities.

What the settlers are doing, it shows the success that we have reached and it will continue with me, or without me. I would love to be a part of it but if not, there are many other people that will do it.

The dream of a Palestinian child in Silwan, they will tell you [it is] to die in my house. … This is where we are now. The Israelis succeeded in their daily aggression to make us losing the fear. We want to insist it is a Palestinian neighborhood. I love my village and I will never go one step back. The things that the Israelis can do, the only way to completely stop me from talking, is killing me.

JKD: What do you think the future will be like in Silwan?

JS: I see the future in Silwan that we will stay the majority in Silwan. I don’t see that our life conditions will be better. I’m sure it will be worse. But at least when I die, I will die with a good feeling that I didn’t leave my land.

We will stay in Silwan. We will stay in our houses. The future of Silwan, of Jerusalem, it’s a very dark future. We don’t think that it will be better. But we will keep dreaming to die in our houses. You can say unfortunately it’s a dream. But I am one of those people who will say I will die in my house.

Mazen al-Qaq’s last name was misspelled in the original version of this article. The article has been updated to correct this error.

Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jilldamours.wordpress.com.