Strange bedfellows: Mukhtar and Elad

Arab, Jewish leaders join forces to prevent right-wing Silwan march.

Silwan 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Silwan 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A right-wing protest march scheduled for Sunday in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan was cause for an unlikely alliance on Thursday evening, as Abu Jameel Siyam, the mukhtar or local leader of the predominately Arab neighborhood met with David Be’eri, the head of the Elad Association, a nationalist group closely linked with the widening network of Jewish residents in the neighborhood, to issue a joint condemnation of the march, which will be led by activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir if all goes ahead as planned.
Both Siyam and Be’eri, who met at the latter’s home inside the neighborhood, voiced their concerns over the potentially violent consequences that could accompany the march, and expressed anger at its organizers for “coming into the neighborhood from the outside and stirring up trouble.”
Silwan’s Jewish residents “have been living here for 20 years, and we won’t let external forces come in, set this area on fire and then leave us to deal with the flames,” Be’eri said during the meeting.
Siyam echoed Be’eri’s statements, saying, “all the problems we have in Silwan are not from the local residents, but from people who come in from the outside and instigate.”
“This march, if it goes through, will only lead to more hatred between Jews and Arabs,” Siyam added. “That’s all, nothing good will come of this.”
The two scheduled the Thursday meeting – and notified the press – in an apparent last-ditch effort to exert pressure on Marzel and Ben-Gvir, who have been trying to hold a march in the volatile neighborhood since March, when a previous rally was postponed by police at the last minute due to security concerns.
Yet armed with a Supreme Court ruling authorizing them to go through with the march, Marzel and Ben-Gvir have made clear their determination to do so.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post earlier on Thursday, Ben-Gvir reiterated that the stated goal of the marchers was to “draw attention to the racist discrimination against Jews in the neighborhood,” with regards to building rights there.
Both Ben-Gvir and Marzel have repeatedly criticized a court order to evacuate and seal the Jewish-owned Beit Yehonatan building in the neighborhood, which was built without the proper permits, while, they maintain, hundreds of illegally-built Arab-owned homes in Silwan have escaped such scrutiny.
In his conversation with the Post, Ben-Gvir also scoffed at a statement released earlier in the day by Elad, which criticized the march and requested that the rightists call off their plans out of respect for the “quiet” the neighborhood’s Jewish and Arab residents currently enjoy.
“It’s funny to me that Elad is speaking about coexistence in Silwan when hundreds of firebombs have been hurled at Jewish-owned houses there,” Ben-Gvir said.
“My children are safer in Hebron than theirs are in Silwan,” he continued. “They have to drive around in armored cars. So, if they’re talking about preserving coexistence in the neighborhood, I’d caution them to think again.”
“While I respect Elad and the great work they do,” Ben-Gvir added, “we are not going to honor their request.”
But during Thursday evening’s meeting with Siyam, Be’eri stressed that he would continue to appeal to both the rightists and other figures to try to prevent the march from taking place.
“We’re not the police,” Be’eri said. “We can’t force them to call it off.”
Siyam also expressed his frustrations.
“The left-wing and right-wing activists both come into Silwan to stir up trouble,” he said. “They come here to try and show the world that there’s a big problem here, when in fact there’s not. Why can’t they leave us in peace?”
Nonetheless, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby told the Post on Thursday that police were going through with plans to allow the march, and had authorized up to 70 activists to participate.
“We have authorized the activists to march from the Givati parking lot [at the entrance to the neighborhood] down to the Shiloach Spring [at the bottom of the neighborhood] and back,” Ben-Ruby said.
“Our forces will be deployed in large numbers throughout east Jerusalemto prevent any and all attempts to disturb the peace,” he said.
Ben-Ruby stressed that police would adopt a policy of “zero toleranceto all provocations,” including racist slogans and rock-throwing.
“We will not allow any of it in any way, and it doesn’t matter if theyare Jews or Arabs,” he said. “We will prevent all sides from attemptingto disturb the peace.”
Addressing suspicions that the march could spark wider clashes betweensecurity forces and Palestinian youths, as was the case in March,Ben-Ruby reiterated that police would deploy en masse to “prevent alldisturbances.”