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Silwan, or Kfar Shiloah, (Hebrew: כפר השילוח‎; Arabic: سلوان‎) is a mostly Arab neighborhood of roughly 45,000, adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem, extending along the Kidron Valley and running alongside the eastern slopes of Jabal al-Mukaber. Etymology: Siloam is an ancient Greek name derived from the more ancient Hebrew: Shiloah, the Arabic: Silwan, was in turn derived from the Greek, Siloam.



Historically, Silwan was located on the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, near the outlet of the Gihon Spring at the Pool of Siloam, opposite the City of David. The villagers took advantage of the arable land to grow vegetables for market in Jerusalem.[1] Nineteenth century travelers describe it as verdant and cultivated,[2][3] and perched on a steep, slippery scarp cut into hillside.[4]


Numerous rock cuttings, steps and caves show the site has a long history of habitation, also by hermits.[5] Silwan residents say that the construction of the village originated with the arrival of the Rashidun Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab. According to local legend, the Greek proprietors of Jerusalem were impressed by the humble majesty of the Caliph as he entered on foot while his servant rode in on camel, and presented him with the key to the city.[6] The Caliph thereafter granted the wadi to "Khan Silowna," an agricultural community of cave dwellers living around the valley spring.[6]

Silwan is mentioned as "Sulwan" by the Arab writer and traveller al-Muqaddasi. In 985, he wrote "The village of Sulwan is a place on the outskirts of the city [Jerusalem]. Below the village of 'Ain Sulwan (Spring of Siloam), of fairly good water, which irrigates the large gardens which were given in bequest (Waqf) by the Khalif 'Othman ibn 'Affan for the poor of the city. Lower down than this, again, is Job's Well (Bir Ayyub). It is said that on the Night of 'Arafat the water of the holy well Zamzam, at Makkah, comes underground to the water of the Spring (of Siloam). The people hold a festival here on that evening."[7]

In 1834, during a large-scale peasants' rebellion against Ibrahim Pasha,[8] thousands of rebels infiltrated Jerusalem through ancient underground sewage channels leading to the farm fields of the village of Silwan.[9] A traveler to Palestine in 1883, T. Skinner, wrote that the olive groves near Silwan were a gathering place for Muslims on Fridays.[10]

Yemenite Jewish settlement

In 1882, a group of Jews arrived from Yemen, fleeing the persecution [11] there. Initially, they lived in tents. Later, when the rainy season began, they moved into the ancient burial caves on the east side of the valley.[12] In 1884, the Yemenites moved into new stone houses on the eastern slope of the Kidron, north of the Arab village, built for them by a charity called Ezrat Niddahim. This settlement was called Kfar Hashiloach or the Yemenite Village. Construction costs were kept low by using the Shiloach as a water source instead of digging cisterns. An 1891 photo shows the homes on an otherwise vacant stretch of hillside.[13] An early 20th century travel guide writes: In the “village of Silwan , east of Kidron … some of the fellah dwellings [are] old sepulchers hewn in the rocks. During late years a great extension of the village southward has sprung up, owing to the settlement here of a colony of poor Jews from Yemen, etc. many of whom have built homes on the steep hillside just above and east of Bir Eyyub,”[14]

The Yemenite Jews left Silwan during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and non-Jewish Arabs moved into the vacated buildings. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Silwan was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.[15] It remained under the Jordanian rule until 1967, when Israel captured the Old City. Until then, the village had delegates in the Jerusalem City Council.

Urban growth

Silwan from Abu Tor, looking towards the separation barrier near the Old City

In the twentieth century, Silwan grew northward towards Jerusalem, expanding from a small farming village into an urban neighborhood. Modern Arab Silwan encompasses Old Silwan (generally to the south), the Yemenite village (to the north), and the once-vacant land between. Today Silwan follows the ridge of the southern peak of the Mount of Olives to the east of the Kidron Valley, from the ridge west of the Ophel up to the southern wall of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

New Jewish settlement

On maps issued by the Israeli government and organizations, part of what Palestinians and others consider to be Silwan is labeled City of David (Ir David in Hebrew). Since Israel gained control over East Jerusalem in 1967, Jewish organizations have sought to re-establish a Jewish presence in Silwan. In 1987, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations wrote to the Secretary-General to inform him of Israeli settlement activity; his letter noted that an Israeli company had taken over two Palestinian houses in the neighborhood of al-Bustan after evicting their occupants, claiming the houses were its property.[16] Wadi Hilwe, an area of Silwan close to the western wall of the Old City, wherein lies the neighborhood of Al-Bustan, has been a focus of Jewish settlement.

Ir David Foundation, a settlement organization[17][18][19][20] which Haaretz says promotes the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem,[21] and the Ateret Cohanim organization, are working to increase Jewish settlement in Silwan in cooperation with the Committee for the Renewal of the Yemenite Village in Shiloah.[22] In 2003, Ateret Cohanim set a precedent in the neighborhood, building the seven-story Beit Yehonatan development (named after Jonathan Pollard) without a permit; four years later, the courts ordered the eviction of the tenants,[23] but after a few months the city of Jerusalem approved the construction retroactively.[24] Building on ongoing housing construction in conjunction with archaeological excavation, in 2008 the Jerusalem municipality began "the process of approving a plan for a new housing complex, including a synagogue, in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan".[25]

Housing demolition and squatters

In the 1980s, Haaretz reports, the Housing Ministry "then under Ariel Sharon, worked hard to seize control of property in the Old City and in the adjacent neighborhood of Silwan by declaring them absentee property. The suspicion arose that some of the transactions were not legal; an examination committee...found numerous flaws." In particular, affidavits claiming that Arab homes in the area were absentee properties, filed by Jewish organizations, were accepted by the Custodian without any site visits or other follow-up on the claims.[26] Under the cover of the Absentee Property Law, and indirect land sales, Jews have seized Arab homes while their occupants were still living there.[27] In other cases, the Jewish National Fund has signed protected tenant agreements with ElAd , allowing the settler group to engage in construction without going through the tender process.[28]

In 2005, the Israeli government stated that it would demolish 88 Arab homes in Al-Bustan neighborhood built without permits[29] but were never found illegal in a municipal court.[30] As of 2004, more than 50 Jewish families live in the area,[31] some in homes acquired from Arabs who claim they did not know they were selling their home to Jews,[32] some in Beit Yehonatan, and some squatting in homes from which Arab families were evicted.[33]

According to the Zionist left-wing organization, Rabbis for Human Rights, ElAd has "created a method of expelling citizens from their properties, appropriating public areas, enclosing these lands with fences and guards, and banning the entrance of the local residents...under the protection of a private security force."[34] The Israeli organization Ir Amim expresses concern that "Jewish presence in the heart of Palestinian centers in East Jerusalem creates facts on the ground that may hurt the possibility of any future peace agreement....Ir Amim is also concerned that the presence of security forces in Palestinian neighborhoods will be increased in order to provide security for Jewish settlers. This presence cannot improve the already tense atmosphere in the area."[35]

Archaeological excavation

ElAd is the exclusive sponsor of the 'City of David' digs, featuring excavation of the ancient Silwan aqueduct tunneling around and under the Old City.[36] Israeli archaeologist Yoni Mizrachi says the Israel Antiquities Authority relies on ElAd for funding and has given control over the archaeological sites in Silwan to ElAd; According to Mizrachi, 'Ir David' is "one of the few sites operated by private organisations and it is the only one run by a right-wing organisation."[36] In an Op-Ed for The Guardian, Palestinian rights activist Yigal Bronner (faculty of the University of Chicago), says of the Israel Antiquities Authority: "the same government agency that in 1997 warned against handing over the site to the settlers is now Elad's happy subcontractor."[37]

Islamic-era skeletons discovered in the course of excavations were removed from the site without informing the Muslim authorities and have since disappeared.[38] ElAd has been accused of conducting archaeological digs on Palestinian properties.[39] According to the London Times, "Jewish settler groups are digging an extensive tunnel network under Muslim areas of Jerusalem's Old City while building a ring of settlements around it to bolster their claim to the disputed city in any future peace deal."[40] Elad began the City of David tunnels without applying for a permit from the Jerusalem municipality.[41] As of April 2008, the Israeli High Court had issued a temporary order staying further construction.[33][42]


  1. ^ Cyclopaedia of Biblical , Theological and Ecclesistical Literature, John McClintock, Harper and Brothers, 1889, p. 745
  2. ^ Handbook to the Mediterranean: Its Cities, Coasts and Islands, Robert Lambert Playfair, John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1892, p. 70.
  3. ^ Biblical Geography and History, Charles Foster Kent , 1911 , p. 219
  4. ^ The Holy Land and the Bible: A Book of Scripture Illustrations, Cunningham Geikie , 1888 , New York, James Pott & Co. Publishers p.558
  5. ^ Bible Encyclopedia entry: Siloam International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ a b Jeffrey Yas."(Re)designing the City of David: Landscape, Narrative and Archaeology in Silwan"; Jerusalem Quarterly, Winter 2000, Issue 7
  7. ^ Muk., 171. Quoted in Guy le Strange: Palestine under the Moslems, 1890, p. 221.
  8. ^ Jerusalem (Israel) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Part II, Chapter One: Ottoman Rule, pp. 90, 109, Yad Ben Zvi Institute & St. Martin's Press, New York, 1984
  10. ^ Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Part II, Chapter Two: The Muslim Community, p. 133, Yad Ben Zvi Institute & St. Martin's Press, New York, 1984
  11. ^ 1881 – First wave of Yemenite Jewish immigration to Palestine. Yemenites settle in Shiloach outside the walls of Jerusalem.
  12. ^ Messianism, Holiness, Charisma, and Community: The American-Swedish Colony in Jerusalem, 1881-1933, Yaakov Ariel and Ruth Kark , Church History, Vol. 65, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), p. 645
  13. ^ Photo can be found in “Documents of the Dream, Pioneer Jewish photographers in the Land of Israel, 1890-1933,” Vivienne Silver-Brody, Magnes Press, JPS, Philadelphia,1988, p. 40
  14. ^ Cook's Handbook for Palestine and Syria , Thomas Cook Ltd., 1907, p. 105
  15. ^ From Shiloah to Silwan - An Alternative Archaeological Tour of Ancient Jerusalem
  16. ^ "Letter dated 16 October 1987 from the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General" UN General Assembly Security Council
  17. ^ Yigal Bronner."Archaeologists for hire: A Jewish settler organisation is using archaeology to further its political agenda and oust Palestinians from their homes"; The Guardian, May 1, 2008
  18. ^ Ori Kashti and Meron Rapoport."Settler group refuses to vacate land slated for school for the disabled"; Haaretz, 15/01/2008
  19. ^ The Other Israel: America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace newsletter
  20. ^ The Guardian
  21. ^ Meron Rapaport on ElAd
  22. ^ 11 Jewish families move into J'lem neighborhood of Silwan - Haaretz - Israel News
  23. ^ Meron Rapoport"The battle over settling Silwan simmers" Haaretz, June 12, 2007
  24. ^ "Jerusalem Approves ‘Beit Yehonatan’ in Shiloach" Arutz Sheva, October 15, 2007
  25. ^ Akiva Eldar."Plan to put synagogue in heart of East Jerusalem likely to be approved"; Haaretz, May 20, 2008
  26. ^ Meron Rapoport.Land lords; Haaretz, January 20, 2005
  27. ^ Joel Greenburg."Settlers Move Into 4 Homes in East Jerusalem"; New York Times, June 9, 1998
  28. ^ Meron Rapoport."The republic of Elad"; Haaretz, April 23, 2006
  29. ^ publisher=Ha'aretz "Jerusalem demolitions may spark repeat of 1996 riots". 2009-03-10. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1069913.html publisher=Ha'aretz. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  30. ^ "Jerusalem Municipality plans to demolish 88 homes in Silwan"; Al Ayyam Newspaper, June 1, 2005
  31. ^ "Settlement Timeline". Foundation for Middle East Peace. July-August 2004. Archived from the original on 2006-07-19. http://web.archive.org/web/20060719172832/http://www.fmep.org/reports/vol14/no4/07-settlement_timeline.html. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  32. ^ Rapoport, Meron (2006-06-09). "The Maraga tapes". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 2006-06-16. http://web.archive.org/web/20060616203722/http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/724671.html. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  33. ^ a b "Israeli Supreme Court Intervenes in Silwan". Rabbis for Human Rights. 2008-03-23. http://www.rhr-na.org/news/israeli-supreme-court-intervenes-silwan. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  34. ^ RHR statement
  35. ^ Ir Amim's Position
  36. ^ a b "Secret tunnel unearths new Jerusalem conflict"; AFP, March 26, 2008
  37. ^ Yigal Bronner."Archaeologists for hire: A Jewish settler organisation is using archaeology to further its political agenda and oust Palestinians from their homes"; The Guardian, May 1, 2008
  38. ^ Meron Rapaport."Islamic-era skeletons 'disappeared' from Elad-sponsored dig" Haaretz, June 1, 2008
  39. ^ Haaretz on Rabbis for Human Rights arrest
  40. ^ James Hider."Settlers dig tunnels around Jerusalem"; The Times Online, March 1, 2008
  41. ^ Meron Rapoport."City of David tunnel excavation proceeds without proper permit"; Haaretz, February 5th, 2007
  42. ^ "Israeli High Court orders an end to excavations in Silwan"; IMEMC, March 18, 2008

External sources

Coordinates: 31°46′12″N 35°14′13″E / 31.77°N 35.237°E / 31.77; 35.237

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