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Israel’s archaeological digs force entire Jerusalem family out of their homes

By Zann H. - April 26, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Archeology] [Silwan]

“We are all very afraid, especially when we sleep at night, for fear that the ceiling will collapse on us,” says Jehan Aweidah, a mother of five children.

The cracks found on the floor, the walls and ceilings of the Aweideh family who reside about 200 metres away from the archaeological site of the so-called 'City of David’ have started to enlarge and worsen at an alarming rate.

The 'City of David’ lies at the heart of the Wadi Hilweh area in Silwan,a neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, whose annexation by Israel has never been recognised by the international community.

Located just a short walk from the Dung Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, theAl- Aqsa compound and the dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque give a vantage point over the neighbourhood of Wadi Hilweh.

According to the Wadi Hilweh committee, since the discovery of this archaeological site in 2007, the Israeli authorities have persistently undertaken excavations with scant regard for the safety and fundamental integrity of the houses and shops of the Palestinians in the area.


Home to approximately 4,000 residents where Palestinians form the majority of the population, some Jewish settlers have also moved into Wadi Hilweh. According to Yonathan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO working to prevent the politicization of archaeology in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “I think that for a long time there is an attempt to 'Judaize’ Silwan. There is a joint effort of the settlers and the authorities to increase Israeli presence in the village and to emphasise whatever looks or is understood as a Jewish ancient site or find.”

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem statesthat the site of the 'City of David’ has been overseen by El-Ad (acronym for 'To the City of David’ in Hebrew), an Israeli NGO. It is the only national park in Israelto be run by an organisation whose purpose is to foster 'a particular ideology’.

El-Ad manages the visitor centre of the 'City of David’ and funds excavations in the Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood. Moreover, it is also involved in relocating Jewish settlers by procuring houses and land in Silwan, with the target of “strengthening the Jewish bond to Jerusalem”. Since the 1990s, El-Ad and other organisations have succeeded in placing more than 60 Jewish settler families in Silwan, according to B’Tselem.

“About 50 homes are affected to various degree due to the excavations. They don’t dig under [the settlers'] houses, only Arab ones. They want to make a complex and tunnels below,” says Jehan.

Nihad Siyam, who works at the Silwan-based Wadi Hilweh Information Centre, was able to get hold of the blueprints of the tunnels underneath the houses which showed theIsraelioccupation authorities’ aim to build commercial facilities, an information centre, large halls and exhibitions beneath Wadi Hilweh.

“They have been digging for 4 or 5 years but the cracks started appearing about 1 year ago. We can hear drilling from morning till night. The floor and walls vibrate, my children can’t concentrate and study,” said Hamid Aweidah, Jehan's husband.

However, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israel Antiquities Authority said it had no information linking the house to the excavations. A petition by local residents trying to prove a direct link between the excavations and the damage caused to their homes was rejected by the High Court.

Fearing that the 80-year-old house which he inherited from his grandfather may sink or collapse anytime, Hamid and his family could feel the ground shaking as horizontal tunnels arebeing dug under his property.

With a premonition that the house will face imminent collapse, the Aweidah family acted on the advice of neighbours who faced similar problems. The police and engineering experts were summoned to examine the conditions of the house.

The authorities inspected and deemed the house too unsafe to live in. The Aweidah family has been issued with a letter to evacuate the house. They were told to move out by the beginning of May.

“We are given 30 days to move out for safety reason, otherwise we will have to pay 150 NIS a day and 3200 NIS a month for fines,” says Hamid Aweidah as he waves a 3-page notice in Hebrew.

In fact, they are not alone in facing this predicament. Their extended Aweidah family who live in the vicinity, have also been issued with the same notice.

“We know that it is too dangerous to remain in this house but we can’t find an affordable place to rent in Jerusalem. Instead of giving help or compensation, the Israeli authorities want to impose a fine on us. Where can we go?” says Hamid who is almost at his wit’s end.

To add a dose of optimism to the dire situations faced by the residents of Wadi Hilweh, the CEO of Emek Shaveh, Yonathan Mizrahi - states that,

“I think that the main and sometimes the only goal of the excavation is political,” Emek Shaveh's Yonathan Mizrahi told Palestine Monitor, “to make Silwan an Israeli place and to emphasise its Jewish past. What is clear is that from Israel’s point of view, Silwan and Wadi Hilweh especially should be part of Israel in any political solution.”

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