Guardian UK (Link) - Seth Freedman (March 20, 2009)
Either side of Jerusalem's Old City walls, a storm is brewing, threatening to engulf residents the length and breadth of the region. If the Israeli authorities make good on their promise to demolish homes in Silwan and evict families in Sheikh Jarrah, locals swear that Israel will be drenched with blood and tears, rather than with the Biblical blend of milk and honey said to flow through the Holy Land.
Twice in as many hours this week I was told by outraged east Jerusalemites that any assault on Palestinian property in the area would prove the catalyst for the third intifada: a promise rather than a threat, they assured me. Standing in front of a 10ft banner demanding "Stop the ethnic cleansing", Balad leader Jamal Zahalka issued a similar clarion call into the microphones and video cameras of the onlooking press pack, calling on Israeli officials to immediately halt their plans if they wished to avoid an inferno of resistance.
He was standing on a disputed patch of land in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where the authorities are seeking to evict 10 families from their homes, apparently to make way for the construction of 200 settlement housing units and a shopping mall. Lawyers for the families have applied to freeze the eviction orders, claiming that underhand measures have been employed to strip the residents of their homes, but the omens don't look promising for their clients.
If past performance is any guide to predicting the future, the authorities will not stop until the 51 family members are turfed out, and the land transferred to one of the shadowy settler organisations hell-bent on "Judaising" the neighbourhood. As we stood listening to a trio of Balad and Hadash MKs speak, the fruit of the settlers' previous labour loomed above us atop the nearest hill. The Maaleh Zeitim settlement is undergoing an expansion tacking another 60 housing units on to the original 50. In addition, a variety of individual settler houses brazenly flying Israeli flags sit uncomfortably alongside the neighbouring Arab homes.
The fury of the Sheikh Jarrah families was more than matched by the residents of Silwan, to the immediate south of the Old City. Here 88 homes have been slated for demolition to make way for a national park, threatening to make homeless more than 1,000 members of the community.
One cut their losses and self-demolished their home, not wishing to incur further fines for non-compliance with the government orders. The ruins of two other houses stood testament to the devastation already wreaked by the wrecking balls – the same structures whose tearing down Hillary Clinton described as simply "unhelpful".
Clinton's words were positively mincing, compared with the threats of the incandescent residents I met in the protest tent set up in the centre of the Al-Bustan area of Silwan, where the park is scheduled to be built. "Anything that happens near Al-Aqsa and in east Jerusalem will have major ramifications throughout the Palestinian world", cautioned one man. "These are very sensitive areas of great national importance to us, and there is only so much more we can take." He saw a new intifada as inevitable if the demolitions took place, echoing the angry residents of Sheikh Jarrah earlier in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, a hundred metres above the valley where we sat, busloads of happy sightseers and schoolchildren gazed from the viewpoints of the City of David Visitor Centre, seemingly oblivious to the pain and fury bubbling up from Silwan. The ever-expanding City of David has become a major tourist attraction in recent years, bankrolled by overseas donors. These include Irving Moskowitz, who also funds the Maaleh Zeitim settlement and is a prime backer of other settler projects across the West Bank.
Last year, one of Moskowitz's acolytes told me Silwan's residents should think of Palestine, rather than complain about their lot. "They kicked us out of here first, so now we're taking back what's ours," Rabbi Pesach Lerner declared then: his master plan is now being realised.
The desperate residents of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah meet intransigence when confronting the Israeli authorities, and indifference when appealing to foreign governments to intervene on their behalf. With no one else to turn to, warnings of a violent uprising don't sound like mere idle talk. According to the local activists I met, the final grains of sand are about to fall to the bottom of the hourglass. If sympathy is not shown to their cause, and if ethics fail to trump ethnic rivalry, the backlash could be swift, sharp, and just around the corner.