Distress of Jewish and Arab children living in Silwan reaches Knesset. Jewish and Arab residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood
described life in the shadow of clashes in the area during a hearing in the Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child on Monday.
The Arab parents told of arrests of children in the middle of the night, that their kids live in fear. Should they want to play in a nearby playground, the parents said, the children have to take a taxi to get there.
On the other hand, Jewish parents complained that their children must travel in armored vehicles out of fear that rocks will be thrown at them.
Near King's Garden in Silwan. Will houses be demolished? (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Committee Chairman Danny Danon (Likud)
insisted on labeling the discussion as one between residents of the village of Shiloah, the neighborhood's ancient name, instead of calling it Silwan. The parents were not held up over the details, raised their concerns one after another.
Fakhri Abu-Dihab came out against the Jerusalem Municipality. "The only service residents of the neighborhood receive from the city is house demolitions," he claimed. "The children live in fear 24-hours a day, in great psychological and mental distress. Before the municipality even destroys the houses, it destroys the children."
Abu-Dihab said that one of his children arrived at school with a backpack full of toys instead of books. "The teacher asked him why, and he said, 'I am afraid they will demolish my home with my toys inside.' The children have nightmares at night. They wet the bed. We haven't had anything like this for years," he explained.
The Arab residents said that in addition to the constant fear of house demolitions, they are also grappling with a difficult existence that drags them into violence.
Chairman of the neighborhood parents' committee, Fared Khales, said, "There is no place in the neighborhood to play soccer, games, nothing. Not one summer camp was opened for the neighborhood children. If I want to take the children to play, I have to travel to other neighborhoods or to the Liberty Bell Garden. But in order to get there, I have to pay NIS 30 (about $8) for a taxi. How much can I do that?"
Khales said that 6,500 from Silwan study outside the neighborhood because there is not enough classroom space for them. "Every classroom is only 30 m (yards) in which 45 students study, three at each desk. Only once week the trash is collected. The students study in the debris, in the filth," he explained.
Daoud Siam, a Silwan resident whose son was taken in for investigation on suspicions of throwing stones, explained why there are disturbances in the village. "We do not teach our sons to throw stones, but they have no other place to be but the street," he said. "You are the ones who threw them onto the street. The atmosphere is very tense, and you use only force against us."
Beit Yehonatan. Jews also have gripes (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Siam said that the police regularly arrest boys from their homes, which evokes fear and anger: "They cam in at 4 am, took my kid by force in his pajamas, cuffed him, threw him into the jeep, and investigated him while his siblings and mother looked on, crying and begging. I wasn't in the investigation. He was there for nine hours."
A police representative present during the meeting, Avi Cohen, said that the phenomenon of throwing stones is extensive. "I don't think they do it because they don't like people, but because there is nothing to do in the village. This is the flock mentality. Someone throws a rock and the others follow. A large number of the stone-throwers are children below the age of 12. Beyond investigating them in an open testimony with their parents, they can only be sent to a social worker for continued treatment. This is the law."
Jewish residents of the neighborhood also spoke before the committee. Beit Yehonatan resident, Eldad Rabinovich, claimed that the security of their children is uncertain because they, too, undergo traumatic experiences.
"Just to be clear, we need to travel in an armored jeep with two security guards. Anyway, we are hit with stones and Molotov cocktails on the way to nursery school and on the way back from everywhere. We are speaking of the lives and safety of our children. Education institutions are a problem for us, as well, and we sometimes need to send the children a long distance to the nearest education institution," explained Rabinovich.
He claimed that responsibility for the children rests on the parents' shoulders: "A child who picks up a stone and throws it is not playing with Lego; he is playing with risking human lives. We keep our kids occupied. We built games on the roofs of our houses. It is the parents' responsibility. They need to make sure they are kept busy."
Chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization, Mati Dan, said that a joint team of Arab and Jewish parents must be formed in order to solve the problem. The team, he said, should also include Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
"The problem stems from the politics of the leftist organizations that have a political agenda. I contacted the Meretz faction in the municipality, but they have to keep the Arabs in a state of distress. Otherwise, what would members of the human rights groups and leftist organizations do? We need to put an end to this 'stone festival' and build summer camps for Arab and Jewish children in Silwan immediately," said Dan.