Meretz council members tour Silwan to denounce Israeli settlement growth

"The idea is to bring as much of an Israeli population as possible there to make a peace settlement more difficult than it already is," says Meretz councilwoman

October 22, 2014 22:21
2 minute read.

MERETZ CITY Council members pose for a picture during a Wednesday tour of east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.. (photo credit: MERETZ)

Less than two days after nine Jewish families moved into the mostly Arab east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, over a dozen Meretz Knesset and city council members toured the area Wednesday to denounce what they believe is a flagrant landgrab by the government.

According to Dr. Laura Wharton (Meretz), who participated in the morning tour, the Monday relocation of Jews into the disputed neighborhood is to “bring as much of an Israeli population as possible there, to make a peace settlement more difficult than it already is.”

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While Wharton conceded that the total number of Jews living in Silwan is dwarfed by the 50,000 Arab residents, she said the government has been complicit in backing Jewish attempts there to change facts on the ground.

“The best evidence that the government is supporting and encouraging the effort is to look at its budget, which includes between NIS 60 million and NIS 80m. a year on security expenses for the settlers – which includes not only personal guards and transportation in armored vehicles for children when they go to school but also 24-hour surveillance cameras and the like, paid for by Israeli taxpayers via the Housing Ministry.”

Wharton continued: “A really scandalous proposal recently passed, including the allocation of NIS 300m. to east Jerusalem, which included NIS 100m. for settler security.”

Moreover, the councilwoman said she took issue with the government, which she said continues to defy international law.

“The point I want to make is that it doesn’t matter to me that the [settlers] are Jewish, it’s that they are Israelis, and according to international law it is illegal for a conquering power to settle its citizens in conquered territory,” she said. “So the problem is not that they’re Jewish, Buddhist or whatever – it’s that they’re Israeli, and no other country except Israel recognizes these neighborhoods as legal to settle citizens in.”

Wharton also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat for decrying chronic Arab rioting in the capital while engendering greater tension between Jews and Palestinians by supporting such contentious moves.

“The Israeli government and mayor have now been expressing concern and even panic about outbursts of violence in east Jerusalem, but at the same time they are encouraging these illegal actions by the settlers, and I don’t think that you can separate the two,” she said.

“It shows a deep lack of understanding of the situation, to engage in aggressive action in Silwan and then be surprised that there is a violent response. I, of course, condemn all violence, but I think that in order to control it, it is important to recognize the government’s responsibility in its outbreak.”

Barkat has long contended that it is Israel’s right to build and expand in the capital, for which he said he refuses to apologize, despite international condemnation, including from the United States.

“I say this firmly and clearly: Building in Jerusalem is not poisonous and harmful – rather, it is essential, important and will continue with full force,” he said earlier this month after 2,610 housing units were approved in Givat Hamatos, beyond the Green Line.

“I will not freeze construction for anyone in Israel’s capital. Discrimination based on religion, race or gender is illegal in the United States and in any other civilized country,” he said.

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