Commentaries

STATEMENT BY THE VIRGINIA DEFENDERS ON THE ONGOING ATTACKS AGAINST THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE BY THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

On Demolitions in Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem

May 2021 was marked by yet another escalation of Israeli aggression against the Palesitnian people, most significantly the genocidal slaughter of more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza, a quarter of them children, by Israeli warplanes; eviction threats in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem; mobs of violent Israeli settlers storming throughout Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs;” and the brutalization of peaceful Palestinian protestors who gathered at Masjid al-Aqsa to commemorate International Jerusalem Day.

While the initial outrage of the international community in response to the Israeli violence was unprecedented, that attention has now decreased while yet another Palestinian town in East Jerusalem is under threat of ethnic cleansing through systemic dispossession. The town of Silwan is home to 33,000 Palestinians. The demolishment of its al-Bustan neighborhood marks the beginning of Israel’s colonial expansion in the area to build a park for Israelis. Residents of al-Bustan were ordered by the Israeli occupation forces to either tear down their own homes and businesses or else pay for demolitions by the Israeli regime.

This form of forced submission is a form of psychological torture that affects Palestinian families in different ways. Children witness the trauma of their parents while their own toys and belongings are being thrown out of their homes. Fathers feel powerless as they cannot protect their families from displacement, homelessness and violence and can no longer provide for their families. For mothers, their entire lives are uprooted, as their days revolve around maintaining their households. Homes that have belonged to these families since their original displacement during the first Nakba in 1948 are once more destroyed, with the families once again made refugees in their ancestral lands.

One of the first acts of the colonial expansion of Israel into the town of Silwan was the arrival of 40 bulldozers at the al-Bustan neighborhood and the demolition of a grocery store owned by the Rajbi family, who refused to demolish it with their own hands. Nidal al-Rajabi, the store’s owner, was then brutalized by occupation forces for not demolishing his business himself. Teargas was fired by occupation forces at residents of the neighborhood to disperse those resisting the ethnic cleansing. This seizure of Palestinian properties is backed by the Israeli organization Ateret Cohanim, a foundation that focuses on strengthening the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem in violation of Article 49, Paragraph 6 of the Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory.

The Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality unequivocally support the resilient and dignified Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination and existence in their own lands. We strongly condemn the entirety of the Israeli occupation and recognize all of Palestine as occupied land. We call on the international community to continue demonstrating their support of the Palestinian cause; to condemn the Israeli occupation and displacement; and to call on their respective governments to end all diplomatic and economic relations with the Israeli regime.

Along with our Arab and Jewish allies, the Defenders co-sponsored the May 19 Richmond march and rallies at which more than 1,500 people militantly declared, “We Stand with Palestine!” We are currently in the process of planning an in-person, teach-in seminar on Virginia’s complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. In the meantime, please monitor and participate in solidarity campaigns on social media with the hashtags #SaveSilwan and #SaveSheikhJarrah.

Sources:

Press TV, June 21: Report: Israel forcing Palestinians in Silwan neighborhood of al-Quds to raze their homes. (Internet Archive link provided, as the domain PressTV.com was seized by the U.S. government on June 22, 2021.)

Al Jazeera, June 29: Demolitions begin in occupied East Jerusalem’s Silwan.

Video posted by Arabic-language Jerusalem news outlet Maydan al-Quds, showing Israeli soldiers beating Nidal al-Rajabi: June 29.

Video posted by journalist Dalya al Masri depicting demolitions: June 29.

Video posted by Times of Gaza Twitter account depicting residents demolishing their homes by hand to comply with Israeli demolition orders: June 27.

Video of Israeli forces using teargas, posted by Silwan resident activist Mohammed el-Kurd, taken by journalist Muna Hawwa: June 27.

Press TV, June 28: Palestinians slam global silence over Israeli evictions in Silwan.

Al Jazeera, June 11: Demolishing Palestinian homes for an Israeli religious theme park.

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