A Brief History of Silwan
Silwan is located to the south of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and it is considered to be one of the largest and oldest Palestinian cities. It is also the nearest city to Al Aqasa Mosque, in which only the southern wall of Jerusalem separates Silwan's northern entrance- Wadi Hilweh neighborhood- from Al Aqsa Mosque.
Historians and researchers say that the town of Silwan was the foundation that Jerusalem was built upon by the Jebusites, and they named it "Jebus" (Yabous) more than five thousand years ago. The Jebusites are from the Canaanite tribes that inhabited Palestine, they were the first to be able to grow olive trees in the country. Jerusalem had been held on four hills that gave it a strategic importance:
Mount Zion: the area where Prophet David neighborhood and the Armenian Quarter are located today.
Mount Moriah: a plateau on which the Aqsa Mosque is now located.
Mount Pista: Is the spot on which the neighborhoods of Bab Huta and Herod's Gate are located.
Mount Ophel: the hill that is located between the wall of Al-Aqsa and the village of Silwan, also called “Aldhor Hill”. "1" detailed in the history of Jerusalem
Owing to the excavations that are located south of Al-Aqsa Mosque we are able to say that the building and construction in Silwan began in the Umayyad period. Today viewers can see palaces that have been built by the Umayyad successors to show their attachment to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Umayyad’s built low-rise buildings of stone, and most houses in the village were exclusively built to the eastern slope of the “Kidron Valley”, but with the increase of population the constructions have expanded to include all parts of Silwan.
The town of Silwan is located on a series of cliffs that are separated by several valleys such as Hilweh Valley,Yasul Valley, and Rababah Valley. It has many surrounding districts such as Bustan neighborhood, BirAyoub, EinLozeh, Batn Al-Hawa, the central lane, RasAl-Amud, Sweileh, Shiah, Farouk, and Al-Thawri- one of the largest districts of the historical Silwan. Al-Thawriis located in the southwest of the town of Silwan, with a population of nearly 15 thousand people. A large section of it was occupied in 1948.
Silwan was named “Jerusalem’s protector” because of the arc shaped borders that extend from the Eastern Southside to the Southern West side.
Residents of Silwan
Silwan is characterized as a tribal society and it consists of several clans: Al-Rawayda, Al-Thiyabiya, Al-Mhrbashiya, Al-Najada, Al-Siyamiya, Al-Abassiya, Al-Qara’een, Al-Mahareeq, and Al-A’liwat.
The Importance of Religion in Silwan
Silwan has a distinctive religious feature; EinSilwan and Ayoub Well are located in Silwan. The great companion Abu Huraira narrated from Prophet Mohammad (PBUH): God has chosen four cities: Mecca which is a holy land, Al-Medina which is a shining palm tree, Jerusalem which is an Olive, and Damascus which is figs.
God has chosen four springs, as He the Almighty says in a verse from the Holy Quran: “In them (each) will be two Springs flowing (free)…In them (each) will be two Springs pouring forth water in continuous abundance”.
According to this verse the two springs that are flowing freely are Silwan Spring, and Bisan Spring. The two other springs that pour water forth in abundance are Zamzam and Akko Springs.
Khalid bin Ma'dan said that the springs of Zamzam and Silwan are from the springs of Paradise.
The books of Seerah state that the Ayoub Well had been dug by angels in honor of Prophet Ayoub. The length of the well is Eighty-arms long (approximately 41 meters), and the width is approximately 2 meters. It is built with strong stones; a person cannot carry or transmit them. God Almighty says in a verse in The Holy Quran: "Strike with thy foot: here is (water) wherein to wash, cool and refreshing, and (water) to drink."The command was given to Prophet Ayoub to cure his illness, and so water sprung out of this well. However, this religious site has not attracted the Palestinians’ and the Arabs’ great interest.
Tenderness between Jerusalem and Hebron, Part II"1"
Until the fifties of the last century,Silwan was famous for its agriculture due to the fertility of its vast lands and the abundant water springs.The town has been considered to be one of the most important food chains for the Holy City. Among the most famous crops were grain, wheat, barley, legumes, and vegetables. One of the well-known proverbs that the people of Silwan say to denote that their hometown is famous for its agriculture is, “don’t try to sell chard to the residents of Silwan”. Long tracts of land were covered with olive, fig, and pomegranate trees, as well as grape vines, but with the growth of the population and urbanization,cultivated land has reduced dramatically.
Silwan under Occupation
The City of Peace has fallen! Jerusalem has collapsed during the political setback, known as the "Six Day War", in June 1967. Also the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights had collapsed as well.
One major town that was targeted by the occupation authorities was Silwan. Immediately after the “Six Day War” the occupiers confiscated nearly 73 thousand acres of Silwan’s vast land which extended to the “Red Khan”, in addition to large areas which were controlled by the occupation authorities after the war of 1948.
Occupation authorities consider the district of Wadi Hilweh from the remains of the“City of David”. They also regard the Abbasiyah district, the Bustan district, and Rababah Valley as background gardens to the “City of David”.
In the south-eastern part of Silwan, and specifically Ras al-Amud region, which has a strategic location, settlers have built a settlement to control the old Jerusalem-Jericho Street as well as roads that lead into Silwan. In addition, the Israeli authorities have issued orders to demolish dozens of homes in various parts of the town.
The district of Wadi Hilweh is the main northern entrance to the town of Silwan, it is adjacent to the wall of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque as well as to the Mughrabi Gate.
One reason Wadi Hilweh was targeted by the Israelis is because of its historical importance, another reason is the claims by settler associations and Israeli archaeologists on finding an alleged temple in that region.
The Umayyad Palaces Zone
Umayyad palaces are located at the northern entrance of Silwan. It is one of the most important Islamic archaeological sites. The occupation authorities took control of the region, and it was opened in June 2011 as a manifestation of the alleged Temple. There they built metal stands and platforms in the form of a path called the "Biblical Path to the Manifestation of the Temple”.
The diggings in the Umayyad Palace area continued for years. The Israeli authorities have also stolen massive rocks and soil from the region.
Over the years, the excavations have increased, so has the confiscation of lands and the ceasing of people’s homes in twisted and unjust ways in order to transfer their ownership to settlers. This is done by owners who seek personal interests over the country’s interest and over the committed Palestinians who are struggling to save their homes and land.
In the beginning of 1986 the Elad Settlement foundation was established. The president of the association then claimed that he was a tour guide and got to know one of the town's residents and worked with him in the field of tourism. A few years later he seized the man’s property and Elad association began to control properties of the citizens under a law called "Absentee Properties" law. This law is used by the Israeli occupation authorities to confiscate lands and properties from its Arab owners and prevents them from returning to their homes such as the example of homes confiscated in the neighborhoods of “Al-Talbiyeh, Boq’a and others”in West Jerusalem. The confiscation took place with the help of the Jewish National Fund(JNF) who transferred the confiscated properties’ ownership to the Elad settlement association.
Elad association took the responsibility of protecting and preserving the “national park” called "City of David" and it is supervised by the “Nature and Parks Authority”. Meanwhile the antiquities authority has carried out increased excavations in the site in an illegal manner.
The Ministry of Tourism has contributed to bringing Jews and foreign tourists from around the world to visit what they call the "City of David" which has become a pilgrimage site for tourists.Elad association offered the biblical story of Jews in images and movies, yet eliminated large parts of the ancient civilizations that once lived in the region and whose marks remain.
Mughrabi Gate Square
After an armed operation with the name “Givati Unit” that was carried out by a number of Palestinian youths in 1981 against the occupation forces, which led to the killing of six Israeli soldiers, the occupation authority decided to change the name of Mughrabi Gate Square and name it Givati Square instead. The occupation authorities took over the Mughrabi Square and transformed it into a private parking lot for settlers. For years they have been trying hard to establish the “Kedem complex- David City- Old City Dock” project that is specialized for the use of scientists and the Israeli Archaeologist Department, in addition to conference rooms, educational rooms, parking areas for tourists and settlers, and private offices for the Elad settlement association.
The Mughrabi Gate Square was a major source of income for residents of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood; it was a meeting place for Palestinian merchants to sell their goods to tourists, some of the goods included ice cream and different kinds of foods. At night the square was considered the only breather for children and youngsters of the neighborhood by turning it into a training field for soccer. The square also used to be the main soccer training area for “Silwan Sports Club” which was later on closed during the first uprising (Intifada).
The Central Lane
The people of Silwan divided their town geographically by the upper lane, the central lane, and the lower lane. In 1882 the Jews of Yemen immigrated to the Palestinian territories amid calls from the Zionist movement that invited Jews from around the world to immigrate to Palestine. After Western Jews refused to receive the easterners in their communities, the people of Silwan greeted them in 1884 and invited them to live in the middle lane of their neighborhood. Jews lived with the people of Silwan for many years with stability and happiness until 1936, Yemeni Jews sent messages of thanks and gratitude to the people of Silwan for the years they lived together.
Changing Names of Areas and Streets from Arabic to Hebrew
Israeli municipality has worked to change the names of streets and areas, particularly in the Old City of Jerusalem and of some of its surrounding towns where settlements are built. The purpose of such measures is to change the reality of the places and distort history and facts. This attack of name changing is concentrated in Silwan in particular. They have changed the names of streets and alleys in the western town into Hebrew to change the facts and to legitimize the occupation. For instance, they had changed the name of “Wadi Hilweh” to the Hebrew name “Ma’lot Eir David”, “Bustan Valley” has also been changed to “GanHamelach” meaning the King’s Garden, Wadi Hilweh region has been named “David City” and Mughrabi Gate Square has been changed to “Givati Parking”.
Silwan and the Struggle for Survival
Silwan has been the defender of Jerusalem and the southern shield to protect it from invasions. It offered hundreds of martyrs and presented thousands of wounded and detainees as well as exiled to defend Jerusalem and its pure towns as well as to preserve Arabism and to maintain their territory.
Today, facing provocative campaigns, arrests, house demolitions and repeated attacks from Israeli settlers, Silwan experiences a constant struggle to stay rooted in the land of their forefathers to protect the Arab origin and the Islamic faith.
Israeli authorities and settlers had not stopped the relentless pursuit of Judaizing the region.Perhaps the announcement of the Israeli authorities’ intention to demolish the Bustan neighborhood and to establish the Holy Basin and biblical gardens in its place, or the decisions to demolish houses have sparked a clash between Silwan residents and the Israeli authorities and settlers.
Not a day goes by where the residents aren’t rained by gas bombs, sound bombs and rubber bullets during the clashes while trying to defend their existence, their lives and their land.
The Israeli attacks and provocations did not only affect the residents who are alive, but also disturb the deceased. Israel has made a decision to confiscate parts of Silwan’s cemetery in addition to laying fake graves in the wide territories of the town.
Silwan’s Cemetery- Bab Al-Rahma (Golden Gate)
Israel's Supreme Court ruled to confiscate 180 square meters of the territory of the southern part of Bab Al-Rahma cemetery, which is an Islamic endowment (Waqf) land. Israeli authorities destroyed several graves that contained remains of some citizens and other graves that were empty. The reason behind this is that Israeli authorities are seeking to use these areas as tourist paths. Israeli municipality has demolished "children's graves" in the eastern section of the Gate of Bab Al-Rahma cemetery in order to expand a street.
It is worth mentioning that the Bab Al-Rahma cemetery includes the graves of the Prophet’s companions, Obada Ibn Al-Samit and Shadad Ibn Aws, which emphasizes the importance of the Muslim cemetery.