Fifteen minutes of hate in Silwan
The vicious anti-Arab sentiments flowing through the streets of this Jerusalem neighbourhood are a shock to the senses
Meron Rapoport - guardian.co.uk
Monday 31 August 2009
It's searing hot, but there's some pleasantness about the stone-flagged path rising from the centre of Silwan, Jerusalem. Maybe it's the breeze, or the stone houses oozing coolness into the air, or maybe it's the wide-open mountain landscape. There are three of us – Ilan, the director, Michael, the cameraman and me, the interviewee. We're making a film on the blatant institutional discrimination against the residents of this Palestinian east-Jerusalem neighbourhood; authorities favour the Jewish settlers who are not hiding their desire to Judaise the neighbourhood, to void it of its Palestinian character.
Even before we position the camera, a group of orthodox Jewish girls, aged about eight to 10, come walking up the path in their ankle-long skirts, pretty, chattering, carefree. One of them slows down beside us, and pleasantly asks us if we want to film her. What would you like to tell us, we ask. I want to say that Jerusalem belongs to us Jews, she says as she walks on, only it's a pity there are Arabs here. The messiah will only come when there isn't a single Arab left here. She walks on, and her girlfriends giggle and rejoin her.
Two minutes later a young, well-built young man comes up, carrying a weapon and a radio, without any uniform or tag upon his clothes. Even before he opens his mouth I'm already guessing he's a security guard, an employee of the private security contractor operated by settlers but sponsored by the housing ministry at an annual budget of NIS 40m (£4.6m). This security company has long since become a private militia policing the entire neighbourhood and intimidating the Palestinian residents without any legal basis whatsoever. A committee set up by a housing minister determined that this arrangement was to cease, and the security of both Palestinian and Jewish residents must be handed over to the Israeli national police. The government endorsed the committee's conclusions in 2006, but recanted six months later, under settler pressure. The private security contractor went on operating.
What are you doing here, the guy asks us. What are you doing here, I reply. I'm a security guard, now tell me what are you doing here, he says, growing more irate. It's none of your business, I reply. What's your name, he asks. What's your name, I answer. It doesn't matter, he says, I'm a security guard. So my name doesn't matter either, I reply. The security guy, visibly annoyed, resorts to conversing with his radio. If we were Palestinians, we'd have cleared the street at first notice. That's the unwritten rule. But we are Hebrew-speaking Israelis. It's a problem. The operation centre apparently explains our man that we're on public ground and there's little he can do about it. He positions himself nearby with his gun, not leaving us the entire trip.
We move on. A few minutes later two teenage girls, aged 17 or 18, come walking up the path. They're not orthodox, and one can see that they're not local. One of them stops in front of the camera. Film me, she pleads. Would you like to be interviewed, we ask. She says yes. She's from the town of Gan Yavne, and came to visit Jerusalem, City of David. Why here, we ask. Because this is where King David was, she says. It's a very important place for the Jewish people. It's such a shame there are Arabs here, though. But very soon all the Arabs will be dead, God willing, and all of Jerusalem will be ours. She walks on.
Two minutes pass by, and an ultra-orthodox Jewish family comes striding up the path. The husband, all in black, asks Ilan: say, do both Jews and Arabs live in this neighbourhood? Both Palestinians and Jews, Ilan replies, but most residents are Palestinians. It's only temporary, the ultra-Orthodox man reassures him, pretty soon there won't be a single Arab left here.
I exchanged glances with Ilan and Michael. We've been here for less than 15 minutes, we haven't asked anyone on what they feel about Arabs or the future of Jerusalem, we only stood for a short while in the street. Hate flowed toward us like a river to the sea, freely, naturally. Do you think, I ask Ilan, that we'll run into someone who'll say something positive, something human, something kind about human beings? Forget human, Ilan replies, I wonder if we'll run into someone who'll be content to just say something nice about the clear Jerusalem air.
Silwan. Remember that name. Its violence will soon overshadow that of Hebron.