Saturday, July 31, 2010

Religious freedom is for all Americans

The Anti-Defamation League has just come out against the plans for a Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.
“The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which promotes interethnic and interfaith dialogue. Speaking of the imam behind the proposed center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, he said, “Here, we ask the moderate leaders of the Muslim community to step forward, and when one of them does, he is treated with suspicion.”
Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

1) The organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate group interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. It is very far from being a Wahhabist organization;

2) This is a strange war we're fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It's not that hard to understand. I'm disappointed that the ADL doesn't understand this.


Friday, July 30, 2010

What *is* in Tartu?

I just spent a week in Tartu, Estonia, at a conference on biblical studies. I gave a paper on whether there were women mystics in early Judaism, and went to lots of other interesting papers. I also went on a couple of tours - one of a series of communities along Lake Peipsi (which forms the border between Estonia and Russia - I had hoped I could take photos of Russia on the other side of the lake, but it's actually quite large, so I couldn't fulfill my desire of saying that I could see Russia from Estonia, unlike Sarah Palin who claimed that she could see Russia from Alaska), and another in and around Tartu itself.

For those of you who may not know where Estonia is (no need to be embarrassed, I checked on the map to be sure exactly where it is), it's the northernmost country of the Baltic states, and it's right next to Russia. From 1940-1991 it was part of the Soviet Union (along with Latvia and Lithuania it was swallowed up by the Soviets as a result of the pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany that agreed to divide the Baltic states and Poland between them). Then, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, it became an independent country again. It's also a member of the EU. There's quite a bit of anti-Russian sentiment there, as a result of this history.

The tour that I took on the Sunday before the conference started first went to several small villages along Lake Peipsi that are inhabited by the "Old Believers" - a sect that split off from Russian Orthodoxy in the 17th century, when the official church enacted a series of reforms that the Old Believers rejected. The reaction against them was extremely violent - Old Believers were persecuted, their priestly leadership was murdered, their churches were burned down - so as a result many of them left Russia for other safer locations, including Estonia. They managed to survive through the years of communist rule, and the communities still exist. I just looked up the term on the internet, and discovered that there are communities of Old Believers even in Oregon!

We went inside an Old Believer church, and it was really beautiful inside. (Unfortunately, they didn't want us to take photos, so I can only describe it). The inside was painted with bright colors, and the front of the church was covered with beautiful icons, vividly painted. One of the women members of the church spoke to us about the religion and tried to explain the differences between the Old Believers and other kinds of Russian Orthodox, but frankly I didn't really understand it. She also talked about how for the most part women are the religious leaders of the community, even though according to their theology men should be - because there are so few men now left who are priests.

We then got back on the bus and went to a little museum of Old Believer life, where another woman told us about Old Believer life, including some very interesting rules that she had grown up with. When her grandmother was alive, the family would never eat with anyone who was not also an Old Believer - if a stranger came to the house, that person had to eat on separate dishes. Also, if anyone in the family went away to work far away, and then came back, he had to go through a two-week period of eating on separate dishes as well before he would be considered pure enough to eat with the family.

The rest of the tour consisted of a visit to a castle (actually, not much of a castle, it was from the 19th century, built by a German baron), where we had lunch, and then a visit to the shore of Lake Peipsi to watch the "christening" of a boat built out of local reeds. This consisted of someone reciting something in Estonian, which of course we didn't understand, then pouring some rum over the boat, and then passing around the rum to whoever was interested in drinking. Unfortunately, we didn't bring our bathing suits, so there was no possibility of taking a dip in the lake - and it was very hot!

We then returned to Tartu, rather sated with Estonian tourism, and got down to the serious business of biblical scholarship the next day.

On Tuesday afternoon I went on a walking tour of Tartu with the same guide who had taken us to Lake Peipsi, and the tour had a very interesting ending. She showed us some of the main buildings of the University of Tartu, where the conference took place, brought us to the town hall in front of which is a statue of two students kissing, had us slog up the hill behind the university where we saw the university observatory and the supreme court of Estonia, which is headquartered in Tartu, and then back to the main university building where we had started. At that point one of the people on the tour asked the guide about the Soviet occupation - because the guide was uniformly negative about the period of Soviet rule.

The guide answered and then a woman named Irena, who was also on the tour, interrupted her - saying that she had studied at the University of Tartu in the 1970s because it was one of the few universities in the USSR where Jews were freely admitted (she herself now lives in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, but she grew up in Leningrad). She also then mentioned one of the luminaries of the University of Tartu who had taught there for many years - a Jewish scholar of semiotics named Yuri Lotman who founded the Tartu-Moscow Semiotic School. He was from St. Petersburg/Leningrad and was unable to find work in Russia because of antisemitism, and so began teaching in Tartu in 1950.

Irena also talked about another Jewish scholar at the university in the 1930s named Lazar Gulkowitsch. The University of Tartu established a chair in Jewish Studies in 1934, and he took up the position. He was killed when the Nazis invaded in 1941. (Many of the Jews of Estonia escaped the Nazis by going east into the Soviet Union, but about a thousand didn't, among them Gulkowitsch). A scholar at the conference, Anu Pölsdam of the University of Tartu, gave a paper about Gulkowitsch that I'll write more about here.

It was interesting to see the guide then backtrack on her uniformly negative view of the Soviet period. I guess this was just a taste of the internal politics of Estonia.

Copenhagen - blowing in the wind

I just spent a week in Tartu, Estonia, going to the international Society of Biblical Literature conference, and I have now arrived in Copenhagen for a couple of days of relaxation before returning to the U.S. I'm on the 12th floor of my hotel, so when I looked out over the city from the window, I had a great few of roofs, trees, church spires, and the like - and on the horizon, a whole row of wind turbines actively spinning! I really like the way wind turbines look - in my opinion, they add interest to a landscape, rather than intruding on it (as those opposed to Cape Wind have argued). So, forthwith, some photos of Copenhagen's wind turbines:

From Wind turbines in Copenhagen

From Wind turbines in Copenhagen

And by comparison, a photo I took a few years ago of wind turbines on a ridge on the Golan Heights:

From Wind turbines in Copenhagen

And, in case you've forgotten, a photo of the wind turbines on the way to Liepaja:

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Libau and Skede - remembrances of the past

As promised, here is my report on my day in Liepaja. After this, I'll write up my visit to Tartu, Estonia, at the international Society of Biblical Literature conference, which is wrapping up tomorrow. On Friday, I'm flying to Copenhagen for two days, which I intend to spend going to museums and enjoying myself, and then on Monday, I'm going back to Ithaca, at long last.

My visit to Liepaja occurred largely because Ieva Gundare, my guide, urged me to do it after I had written her about my family in Liepaja. I’m very grateful that she hired the driver and the other guide (in Liepaja), came to Liepaja with me, and translated what Sandra, the other guide, said in Latvian. Ieva also generously made sandwiches and brought fruit to eat for all of us.

The day began when she came to my hotel in Riga, and we drove to Liepaja, about a two hour drive from Riga. About a half an hour before we arrived in Liepaja, we passed by a large wind farm – many wind turbines turning in the wind.


From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

When we came into Liepaja, we went to a hotel in the center of the city and met the local guide, Sandra. The first place we drove to was the Skede dunes, about fifteen miles/kilometers north of the city along the Baltic sea. This is the place where the Nazis killed thousands of people, Jews, Latvians, and Soviet prisoners of war. It is likely where Dobra Falkon, the wife of Mottel-Mordchai Falkon, my great-great uncle, was killed with thousands of other Jews in mid-December 1941.

There are two memorials at Skede – one set up by the Soviets, which says that 19,000 people were killed there (it does not mention Jews specifically at all), and another recently built by the local Liepaja Jewish community, with support from the Latvian government and groups in Latvia, Israel, and the U.S. This memorial repeats the assertion that 19,000 people were killed at Skede, but this figure is incorrect – it’s much too large. Edward Anders and Vladimir Bans erected a plaque nearby (in Russian, Latvian, and English) that more accurately states who was killed at Skede.

Memorial site for victims of Nazi occupation.

Here in the Skede dunes were murdered from 1941 to 1945

3640 Jews, including 1048 children
~ 2000 Soviet prisoners of war
~ Latvian civilians
including people who helped Jews and prisoners, and resisted the occupiers.

We honor the memory of our relatives and all other victims who lie here.

UNITED IN DEATH.

Donated by Liepaja Jews
Edward Anders and Vladimirs Bans
From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

Anders and Bans put up this plaque because the other one only mentions Jewish victims of the Nazi murderers, at the insistence of the local Jewish organizers of the memorial. Anders and Bans felt that it was important to honor and remember all who were killed there, Jews and non-Jews. Anders wrote, “We and many fellow Liepaja Jews do not understand the mentality of people who refuse to honor non-Jewish victims—including rescuers of Jews and Soviet POWs—who opposed the Nazis and were killed by them.” I cannot help but think that this division, and the refusal to acknowledge the suffering and deaths of those who together with Jews opposed the Nazis, is another sign of the persistence of the hatred that the Nazis sowed in this part of the world.

The memorial at Skede is built in the shape of a giant menorah. At the entrance there are two big triangular plaques, one with a biblical verse on it, the other acknowledging all those who made the memorial possible. At the end of each branch of the menorah, next to the dunes, is a stone with another verse engraved on it (seven in all). The following two photographs are of the introductory plaques.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

The biblical verse is from the book of Lamentations 1:12 – “May it not come upon you, all who pass on the way; look and see if there is any pain like my pain which is done to me!”

The next pictures are of the dunes and the sea. It is a lonely spot. The last sight for those who were killed here was of the sea.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

This is one of the stone pillars with biblical verses at the ends of the menorah branches. It is inscribed with a verse from Lamentations 3:19 – “Remember my suffering and my oppression, gall and wormwood.”
From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

The next place we went to was inside Liepaja, at another location where Jews were murdered during July 1941 – near a lighthouse that is currently inside an army camp. There is a memorial plaque on a wall outside in Latvian and Russian, underneath an older Soviet memorial that doesn’t mention Jews. I’ve tried to translate the Latvian via Google translate, so it’s not exact:

Stop people! [addressed to passersby]
At this place on July 27, 1941 in Liepaja
fascist murders took place during the Jewish Holocaust

It’s possible that my great-great uncle, Mottel-Morchai Falkon, was killed here in July 1941. The list of victims of the Nazis in Liepeja that Edward Anders and his colleagues have drawn up from many sources lists his death as occurring in July. The killings began almost as soon as the Germans entered Liepaja, on June 29. The first killings at the lighthouse occurred on July 7.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

We next drove to the Jewish cemetery in Liepaja, which is still largely intact. Ieva said that this was the largest still existing Jewish cemetery in Latvia – when she saw it for the first time she was very surprised by its size. The graves and tombstones there are for people who died up until 1941. The first victims of the Nazis were buried in a mass grave at the cemetery (I did not see this), but afterwards they were buried where they were killed.

In the late 1990s Edward Anders and his colleagues began to work on assembling the names of Liepaja Jews who were living in the city before 1940, and discovering their fates under the Soviet and Nazi occupations. They came up with a list of more than 7,000 Jews who had died at the hands of the Nazis or the Soviets. (The Soviets invaded Latvia on June 17, 1940, and on June 14, 1941, they deported thousands of people from the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to the Gulag camps or to Siberia; 208 of these were Jews from Liepaja. The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 – this included the three Baltic states, which were among the first locations to be overrun by the German armies. The first German killing squad arrived in Liepaja on June 29, 1941 – from Einsatzgruppe A. The Einsatzgruppen followed close behind the German armies invading the Soviet Union, and were responsible for killing about one million Jews).

In 2004 a memorial wall to the murdered Liepaja Jews was erected in the Jewish cemetery, listing the names of all the Jewish victims, those brave people who rescued Jews (33 Jews survived in Liepaja itself because they were protected by non-Jews), and the names of the donors. The wall was renewed in a more durable form in 2008.

The section of the wall with the names of my relatives, listing their names and ages at death, is on the next page: three generations of the family. Dobra and Mottel-Mordchai were in their early 70s, their son Abram was 47, and his two children Betja and Genia were 18 and 19 years old.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

This part of the plaque explains what happened to the Jews of Liepaja.
From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

Names of the rescuers of Jews. Robert and Johanna Seduls saved eleven Jews by hiding them in their basement.
From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

Names of those who donated to make the memorial possible, including myself.
From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

We then walked around the cemetery for about a half an hour, looking at the headstones of people who had been buried there. I took some photos of the headstones, which I will post later on my blog. I’ve copied the Hebrew and translated it – some of the epitaphs are quite moving, indicating the love that the family had for the person who died. The memorial to the Jews who died in the Holocaust is the only demonstration of their descendants and relatives that they are also fondly remembered.

Our next and last stop was the part of Liepaja where the Nazis established a ghetto. 832 Jews who remained alive in Liepaja on July 1, 1942 were forced into a ghetto of one block. One of the streets bounding the ghetto was Barenu iela [street] – and my great-great uncle Mottel-Mordchai lived at 19 Barenu iela. It turned out that his house was not included in the ghetto area, but it was not very far away. We drove Barenu iela and past the ghetto area. It seemed that most of the houses there had probably been there in the 1940s – they were old wooden houses, not the new housing built by the Soviets in the newer parts of the city.

When we came to the probable location of his house, there was nothing there – only the foundation and some of the wooden floor. According to Sandra, the house had been standing up until three years before, and then was torn down because it was in such bad shape. I have photographs of the house foundation and other houses on the street.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

Notice the apartment building behind the foundations – it’s from the Soviet period.

The next few buildings are from Barenu iela.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

16 Barenu iela.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

20 Barenu iela.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

16 Barenu iela.

From Liepaja, July 22, 2010

It was strange to stand on the same street I know that my relatives lived on, so many years ago. If they had survived the Nazi extermination, maybe there would still be members of the family living in this house, or in the city of Liepaja.

I never thought I would ever visit Liepaja - I was afraid of how I would feel, that it would simply be too emotionally overwhelming to be there. What I found, however, was that although I felt emotional at times - sadness, especially at the Skede beach, and anger at the Nazis for their vicious crimes, especially when I was at the Rumbula massacre site in Riga - the passage of time made the events of that time seem simply too far away. I think I also had the idea, somehow, that going to the place where these events happened, where the Nazis had committed their murders, would enable me to understand them better.

But instead I had the same feeling that I had in the fall of 2001 when I went to the site of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks - blank incomprehension. On the emotional level, I simply still do not understand how people could do these things, how they could kill innocent people in the street, how they could round them up and kill them in a public park, how they could assemble them together and drive them in trucks to the beach and shoot them at the edge of a enormous pit.

Why did the murderers not become revolted by what they were doing and simply stop? I've read theories of how soldiers can become indoctrinated to believe there is nothing wrong with killing other people in war, and that this brutalization can then be exploited so that they are willing to kill civilians (Christopher Browning has written about this). But when I picture a soldier faced with a woman or child, somebody who is clearly not a combatant, it is very hard for me to understand how he could imagine that it is permitted to kill them. Wouldn't he think of his own family - his mother or sister, or wife, or his own children?

I obviously do not have the answers to these questions. Maybe there are others who do, but I am still left with the blank incomprehension.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Day in Riga - the Jews of Riga in the Holocaust

I have just arrived (yesterday) in Tartu, Estonia, for a conference that begins on Sunday. I was in Israel from June 15 to July 21, and then on the morning of the 21st flew to Riga, Latvia, for what an Israeli friend called a מסע לשרשים – a “roots trip.” Some of my family ended up in Latvia – my grandfather’s uncle, Mordechai Falkon, and his wife and family lived in Liepaja (the German name for the city is Libau), a city on the Baltic Sea about a two hour drive from Riga. I don’t know when he moved there or got married – his father was named Bentsel Falkon, from Ukmerge, Lithuania. Mordechai had a brother and sister. His brother, Jacob Morris Falkon, moved to the United States in the 1890s, married, and was the father of my grandfather, Mark Falcon (Lesses). His sister, Gittel, ended up in the Soviet Union, first in Baku, then in Moscow.

I hired a guide to take me around Riga (on Wednesday) and to Liepaja (on Thursday), and also a car with driver and then a second guide in Liepaja (who did not speak English, so the first guide translated what she said). I found the guide through a man named Dr. Edward Anders, who grew up in Liepaja and was saved because he posed as a half-Jew. He has been instrumental in gathering records of what happened to the Jews of Liepaja during the Holocaust. (See here for his site on the Jews of Liepaja). Dr. Anders recommended a guide named Ieva Gundare, who is a historian who works for the Occupation Museum in Riga (it documents both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Latvia).

I got into Riga with enough time to check in to the hotel and take a shower before Ieva arrived with the car and driver and we started our tour around Riga.

We first went to the Jewish Museum, which traces Jewish history in Latvia since about the 16th century, when Jews first settled in Latvia, up until the Nazi period, when most of the Jews of Latvia were murdered. There was some information about Liepaja, including about Jewish schools, sports groups, and the like. There was a Jewish community in Liepaja of between 6,000 and 7,000 before the war, and a much bigger one in Riga, the capital of Latvia. I met the director of the museum, Margers Vestermanis, whom my guide knew.

After going quickly through the museum, Ieva brought me to several more Jewish sites in Riga. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) were among the first places they conquered. When they entered Riga, they destroyed all but one of the synagogues. We went to the ruins of the Choral synagogue, which has never been rebuilt. It was destroyed by the Nazis on July 4, 1941, very shortly after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). The site has been turned into a memorial.

Ruins of Choral Synagogue in Riga.

Our next stop was the memorial for the Jews who were killed at the Rumbula Forest, which in 1941 was outside Riga but is now inside the city. The Jews in the Riga Ghetto were forced to walk about 10 kilometers along the railroad lines until they reached the spot. About 25,000 were killed at the end of November/beginning of December 1941. A memorial has been built in the last few years.

One thing that I noticed and that the guide talked about was that during the years of Soviet occupation, when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union (1944-1991) the Soviets built monuments at various places where there had been Nazi massacres, but never specified that Jews were the victims (or were among the victims). The plaques simply talked about "victims of fascism," without being any more specific. The memorials that have been built since 1991 specifically discuss the Jewish victims.


In Latvian and English the plaque says:
Here in the forest of Rumbula, on November 30 and December 8 of 1941 the Nazis and their local collaborators shot dead more than 25,000 Jews, the prisoners of the Riga Ghetto, children, women, old people, as well as around 1,000 Jews deported from Germany. In the summer of 1944 hundreds of Jewish men from the concentration camp Riga-Kaiserwald were killed here.
This plaque and the rest of the memorial were put into place in 2002.

What follows is the original plaque, set up during the Soviet era. It says “to the victims of fascism,” in Russian, Latvian, and Yiddish. Notice the hammer and sickle symbol. The inset plaque was inserted later, and reads, in Latvian and English: “This monument was erected in 1964 under the Soviet totalitarian regime by activists of the Riga’s Jewish community. It was the only Jewish memorial to victims of Nazi terror in the territory of the USSR.” Edward Anders refers to this as “Soviet Holocaust Denial.” Ieva told me that when she was growing up in Sovietized Latvia, she did not learn about the Holocaust in school – only in 1988 did she first learn about it (this was during the era of Glasnost in the Soviet Union when Gorbachev was the Soviet leader).


Andrew Ezergailis, a retired Ithaca College professor of history, who is from Latvia, wrote a history of the Holocaust in Latvia. In his chapter on Rumbula he writes:
Under the second Soviet domination of Latvia, Jewish culture was suppressed. Rumbula was not an event that the Soviets wanted to commemorate. Up to 1960, the Rumbula grounds were completely neglected and overgrown. Only in 1961 did young Jews of Rîga begin a search for the location of Rumbula. They found burned bones and other remains from the massacre. The grounds were in an especially disorderly shape because in 1944 the Nazis had partly disinterred the victims to burn them.
Rumbula galvanized the young Jews of Rîga, and in spite of official warnings it became their weekly gathering place. To divert attention from Rumbula, communist officials in 1962 organized a memorial meeting of Nazi victims at Bi˚ernieki. At the official meeting, the speeches were only about “Nazi victims;” Jews were not mentioned. Instead of quieting the movement, this slap at the memory of Jewish victims spurred the activities at Rumbula. In 1963 as many as 500 young Jews worked with shovels, pails, and wheelbarrows weekly to cleaned up Rumbula grounds. Today the burial grounds have the look of a small shady park within a forest of gnarly pine trees, with neat paths and raised mounds indicating the original pits. At the entrance to the grounds stands a modest slab with a hammer and sickle in the upper right-hand corner, inscribed in Latvian, Russian, and Yiddish: “To the Victims of Fascism, 1941-1944.” Among Rîga Jews, this monument is known as the “Aryan compromise.”

The Rumbula memorial consists of a small field of stones set up as a symbolic Jewish cemetery – some of the stones have the names of people and families known to have been killed at Rumbula, while others are blank. Around this memorial are areas of the mass graves, each with a big stone set up on it. The Nazis originally buried the bodies in several big mass graves, but in 1943 they had Jewish men dig up the bodies, burn them, and then bury the bones and ashes.

Menorah in Rumbula memorial, surrounded by stones.


Names of those known to be killed at Rumbula, engraved on one of the stones.

More names.

One of the mass graves at Rumbula, surmounted by a stone.

After we visited the memorial at Rumbula, Ieva took me to a small memorial statue set up at the site of the Riga Ghetto, and then to the one surviving synagogue, in the Riga Old Town. It survived because it was built too close to other buildings that would also have burned.

The next day, we drove out to Liepaja and saw several sites there, including the memorial at the Skede dunes, another site in the city where Jews were killed (there is a Soviet-era memorial there), a memorial set up at the Jewish cemetery to the approximately 6,400 Liepaja Jews who were killed, and the likely site of the house on Barinu iela that Mordechai Falkon and his wife lived in before the Nazi invasion.

My next post will be about the day in Liepaja.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arrival in Riga

I just arrived in Riga, Latvia, for the second part of my summer activities. I haven't been blogging very faithfully about being in Israel - I intend to write up my impressions and post them here (and to Facebook and other friends), so you'll find out more pretty soon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inadequate funding and attention to lung cancer

Good article by Jane Brody on why lung cancer, "the leading cancer killer in the United States" gets less research than many other forms of cancer. Lung cancer killed both my mother and my aunt (her sister). Both started smoking in their teens, long before the Surgeon General's report that smoking causes cancer and other lung diseases. My friend Sam (who did not smoke) died of lung cancer and his cancer was diagnosed only a month before his death. When I tell people that they died of lung cancer, the first question is always - did they smoke? Jane Brody explains why this question, and the assumption that only smokers get lung cancer, is wrong.
There are two things wrong here, according to clinicians who treat this killer of nearly 160,000 people a year — more than deaths from cancers of the breast, prostate and colon combined.
One is the element of blame, as if all smokers who get lung cancer began smoking and continued to smoke knowing the possible consequences. “Lung cancer is underfunded and a major reason is the idea that it’s all related to smoking and it’s the smoker’s fault,” said Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society. “This stigma has influenced both advocacy and research dollars.”
In fact, most smokers who develop lung cancer these days were hooked on nicotine long before it was recognized as an addictive drug and before smoking was clearly linked to cancer. I recall ads for a cigarette brand “most doctors recommend,” as well as the wanton distribution of free cigarettes to college students and young military recruits. I also recall the more recent industry ploy of marketing “low tar” and “light” cigarettes with a higher nicotine content that kept people hooked.
“Regardless of how patients get lung cancer, it’s not deserved,” Dr. Joan Schiller, an oncologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, told me in an interview. “Nicotine addiction is not their fault. Most became hooked at a very young age. It’s a real dependence, like heroin or cocaine.”
As for nonsmokers who get lung cancer — about two-thirds of them women — Dr. Schiller said they “are a disenfranchised group that did nothing wrong, yet women with breast cancer get all the support and empathy.”
“It’s a sizable number of nonsmokers who get lung cancer, more than get leukemia or AIDS,” she went on. “If lung cancer unrelated to smoking was listed as a separate disease, it would be the sixth or seventh most common cause of cancer deaths.”
Smoking-related lung cancer typically strikes older people (the average age at diagnosis is 71), but it often afflicts nonsmokers much earlier, in the 30s and 40s or even younger. And because doctors rarely suspect lung cancer when people who never smoked develop respiratory symptoms, the disease is typically diagnosed too late for any hope of a cure.

Many nonsmokers are treated for months for conditions like pneumonia, bronchitis or asthma before the real problem is uncovered. In fact, one type of lung cancer unrelated to smoking, bronchoalveolar carcinoma, can even look like pneumonia on a chest X-ray.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Is there law in Israel? -- הלכו לתרבות הרעה

Two examples of disregard of the law in Jerusalem that I just encountered tonight, and about which I'm still fuming:

I was walking in Gan Sacher [a big public park where people play soccer, run, ride bicycles, etc.] with friends, and we sat down to watch a soccer game. Suddenly, behind us flames shot up in the air. It turned out to be a group of young, irresponsible men from a yeshiva, who were building a bonfire inside a ring of trees, without any circle of stones to indicate that this was a legitimate place to build a fire. It's the middle of the hot, dry summer in Israel and very dangerous to light a fire anywhere near possible tinder. My friend went and called the police and the fire department, but the fire kept burning higher as the yeshiva guys put more kindling on it.

I went over and started to talk to them. Another woman had preceded me, one of the people who was involved in the soccer game. I heard that they were speaking English (they were Americans) and started to talk to them in English to tell them that it was illegal and dangerous to make a fire in this place. One of the younger, even more irresponsible yeshiva kids said, "there is no law in Israel!" I yelled at him and told him that of course there is law in Israel. His friends got involved in the argument. Finally, one of the supposedly adult staff came over, and conceded that they should not continue to feed the fire. He said that they would go and get water bottles to put it out.

I continued to yell and ask them what did they learn in their yeshiva - didn't the Talmud talk about "loving your neighbor as yourself" and "be careful for your lives"? One of the adult staff said to me - "Don't start talking about the Talmud."Apparently, the Torah and Talmud only belong to the haredim, and not to any other Jews. As of when we left, no one was bringing water bottles, and neither the fire department nor the police had arrived.

My friends and I hailed a taxi to get home (from Panorama Taxis) - it dropped them off first, and then came to my street. I was looking at the meter, and suddenly in was 4.5 shekels more than it had been. I protested and the cab driver said - "this is for the third passenger." I protested that I had never heard of such a thing. He called his dispatcher and said - "Isn't it true that it's more for the third passenger?" The dispatcher said yes. I then looked at the receipt, and it didn't say anything about a third passenger - instead it said "telephone" - as if we had ordered the taxi by telephone (which does in fact cost more). The driver said, "Oh, it's the same amount of money." I paid him and then got out and told him that he and his company were thieves. He drove off. I just looked it up and saw nothing on the official site of the Jerusalem municipality about a special extra fare for three passengers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey

The New York Times has just published a good investigative report on the IHH - the Turkish charity behind the Gaza flotilla that included the Mavi Marmara - Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey.

Apparently the IHH and the ruling party in Turkey, the AK (Justice and Development Party) are very close, and the Turkish government was closely following events on the flotilla. The Turkish government could have ordered the flotilla not to go to Gaza, but did not.
ISTANBUL — The Turkish charity that led the flotilla involved in a deadly Israeli raid has extensive connections with Turkey’s political elite, and the group’s efforts to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza received support at the top levels of the governing party, Turkish diplomats and government officials said.

The charity, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, often called I.H.H., has come under attack in Israel and the West for offering financial support to groups accused of terrorism. But in Turkey the group has helped Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shore up support from conservative Muslims ahead of critical elections next year and improve Turkey’s standing and influence in the Arab world.

According to a senior Turkish official close to the government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the issue, as many as 10 Parliament members from Mr. Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party were considering boarding the Mavi Marmara, the ship where the deadly raid occurred, but were warned off at the last minute by senior Foreign Ministry officials concerned that their presence might escalate tensions too much.

When leaders of the charity returned home after nine Turks died in the Israeli raid, they were warmly embraced by top Turkish officials, said Huseyin Oruc, deputy director of the charity, who was aboard the flotilla.

“When we flew back to Turkey, I was afraid we would be in trouble for what happened, but the first thing we saw when the plane’s door opened in Istanbul was Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister, in tears,” he said in an interview. “We have good coordination with Mr. Erdogan,” he added. “But I am not sure he is happy with us now.”

The raid has caused a rupture between Turkey and Israel, and heightened alarm in the United States and Europe that Turkey, a large Muslim country and a major NATO member, is shifting allegiance toward the Arab world. Turkey has warned that its cooperative ties to Israel could be irreparably damaged unless the Israelis apologize and accept an international investigation, steps Israel has so far refused to take.

The charity’s mission, political analysts said, has advanced Mr. Erdogan’s aim of shifting Turkey’s focus to the Muslim east when its prospects for joining the European Union are dim.

The government “could have stopped the ship if it wanted to, but the mission to Gaza served both the I.H.H. and the government by making both heroes at home and in the Arab world,” said Ercan Citlioglu, a terrorism expert at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul....
“How can such a large country as Turkey, with interests in four continents, and with an export- and investment-driven economy requiring extra caution all around the globe, be dragged to the brink of war by a nongovernmental organization?” asked Semih Idiz, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey, in a June 7 editorial. The answer, he added, is that the charity is a “GNGO” — a “governmental-nongovernmental-organization.”
Many of the 21 people listed on the charity’s board have or had close links to the AK Party. In January, Murat Mercan, chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a senior party official, joined an overland aid convoy to Gaza organized by the charity that tried to force its way through the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza.
A trustee of the charity, Ali Yandir, is a senior manager at the Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation. The corporation controls Istanbul Fast Ferries, which sold the Mavi Marmara, with a capacity for 1,090 passengers, to the charity for about $1.8 million. In 2004, Mr. Yandir was an AK Party candidate for the mayor’s office in Istanbul’s Esenler District.
The charity’s board includes Zeyid Aslan, an AK Party member of Parliament and the acting head of the Turkey-Palestine Interparliamentary Friendship Group; Ahmet Faruk Unsal, an AK Party member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007; and Mehmet Emin Sen, a former AK Party mayor in the central Anatolian township of Mihalgazi.
Those ties partly reflect the common agenda of the party and the charity. Both are involved in relief work among the poor and are bound by a common Islamic ideology. Many of the 60,000 people the charity claims as members come from the religious merchant class that helped Mr. Erdogan sweep to power....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Israeli warning to Libyan ship

According to the New York Times,Israel Sends Warning to Gaza-Bound Libyan Vessel:
The Israeli Navy radioed a warning to a Libyan ship steaming toward Gaza on Tuesday to change course, an Israeli military spokesman said.

“We hope they will go back or to El Arish,” the spokesman said, referring to an Egyptian port. “We made radio contact with them when they were about 100 miles off shore in the past couple hours. We will take over the boat if necessary. What I can tell you is that it will not reach Gaza.”

I hope that there isn't another violent confrontation on the ship. Israel doesn't need a military clash with a ship sent by the son of the Libyan dictator.

It sounds from the NY Times article that there is disagreement between the crew of the ship and the fifteen "activists" on board, who are sponsored by Seif Al Islam Gaddafi's Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

Haaretz reports that the captain told the Israeli Navy that they will be sailing to El-Arish, in Egypt, and not to Gaza.
Speaking with Israeli authorities by radio, the captain of the Al-Amal assured them that he is in charge of the vessel and that the activists aboard will obey his orders. One of the activists' leaders, a Libyan national, also said that, despite the group's desire to sail to Gaza, it will accept their captain's decision.

Israel Navy officials continue to track the aid ship, saying they will only know the Al-Amal's true course at around 4 A.M. when it nears the coast.

The Israeli navy earlier Tuesday made radio contact with the Libyan-sponsored ship sailing for Gaza, a military spokeswoman said.

"The navy just began its process of trying to stop the ship," she said. "At this time the process of communicating with them has begun."

Israel, however, has denied it gave the activists an ultimatum to change course and sail to El-Arish by midnight or face a forceful takeover.

Israel warned the Moldovan-flagged, Greek-registered Al-Amal that it was entering a closed military zone.
I hope they do sail peacefully to Egypt.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Arrests in Jerusalem

As it happens, people whom I know here in Jerusalem have been affected by the arbitrariness and partiality of the police in two recent instances. On Friday, July 9, during the weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah against the establishment of Jewish settlers in houses formerly occupied by Palestinians (who have been evicted from their homes of several decades), eight people were arrested by the police for attempting to leave the usual place where the police permit them to demonstrate and go to the houses from which the Palestinian families have been evicted. As far as I know, no one whom I knew was arrested there, but several people I know were roughed up by the police in the course of their pushing back the demonstrators. People whom I trust who are involved in these demonstrations have told me of the partiality that the police show towards the demonstrators - they refuse to interact with them in any way (for example, by talking to them), they do not obey court orders which permit the demonstrators to go to the houses that have been occupied by the settlers (and in front of which the evicted Palestinian families have set up tents to live in), and they act roughly and sometimes quite violently towards peaceful protesters. The police appear to have taken the side of the settlers.

Then, today, a friend of mine, Anat Hoffman, was arrested at the Western Wall (Kotel) when she was participating in the monthly prayer service by the Women of the Wall (נשות הכותל). This is a group that has existed for over twenty years, since 1988, with the goal of leading a normal morning prayer service in the women's section of the Western Wall - including the wearing of tallitot (prayer shawls) and reading from the Torah, which is normally done on Rosh Hodesh (the first day of a Jewish month, which is today). Over the years the group has been attacked physically by Haredim - I remember times when I was in Israel from 1988-89 that they threw chairs at the women, cursed them, threw bags of garbage at him, physically pushed them, etc. (At one prayer service that I attended I was knocked down twice because I was wearing a tallit). Eventually, the Israeli supreme court ruled that the group could pray at the Kotel (Western Wall), but without wearing tallitot and reading from the Torah. To do that, they have to go outside the Western Wall plaza to an area under what is called Robinson's Arch (after the archaeologist who discovered it) - it is a continuation of the western wall of the Temple Mount but it has not been turned into an open-air ultra-Orthodox synagogue, which the Kotel area has been. The police have forbidden the women, for the last several months, from taking the Torah scroll out of its container while they are still in the Western Wall plaza. Today, apparently, Anat did take the scroll out before they arrived at Robinson's Arch, and the police arrested her. She spent several hours in a police station in the Old City and was ordered not to return to the Kotel area for the next 30 days.
Update: She's also apparently being fined 5000 NIS!

Both of these incidents are testimony to the ascendancy of right-wing religious forces in Israel. The settlements in Sheikh Jarrah are funded by a rich American Jewish businessman, Irving Moskowitz, and the people who live in them are right-wing religious Zionists. The fact that the Women of the Wall even need police protection is because of the violence of the Haredim, right-wing religious Jews who are usually anti-Zionist. If Israel is to survive as a democratic state, both of these kinds of religious right-wing forces need to be defeated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Palestinian rights in Lebanon

I just found a rather astonishing article (to me) on the Ma'an news agency web site (Ma'an is a Palestinian news agency). This is a report on a new law being presented on the rights of Palestinians in Lebanon (there are 425,000 Palestinians in Lebanon). "According to UNRWA, the UN body set up to assist Palestinian refugees, officially registered Palestine refugees born in Lebanon were allowed by law to work in the clerical and administrative sectors for the first time in 2005. However, refugees remain unable to work in some professions, for example, as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, or accountants." Read the article for the various other rights that Palestinians in Lebanon do not possess. I note this article not in an attempt to excuse Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza or discrimination against Arab Israelis, but simply to point out that Palestinians are mistreated across the Middle East. (I believe that of the Arab countries with Palestinian refugees, only Jordan has granted them citizenship).

Lebanese coalition to present bill on Palestinian rights

Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – A coalition of Lebanese political parties will soon resent a two-part draft law on Palestinian refugees’ rights to work and buy health insurance, the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat reports.

The March 14 coalition’s draft bill will not tackle the issue of Palestinian ownership of property rights, as the issue is being discussed by Lebanon’s parliamentary administration and justice committee, the daily reported.

The bill calls for helping Palestinian refugees attain work permits, as many are currently barred from several professions under Lebanese law. Lebanon’s parliament was divided last month over a bill granting Palestinian refugees civil rights, put forward by MP Walid Jumblatt.

On 15 June, parliament speaker Nabih Berri adjourned an extraordinary parliament session in which Jumblatt proposed the draft law.

According to Lebanese news site Now Lebanon, Hezbollah and Amal voted in favor of the bill while deputies from the Kataeb, Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement voted against.

Jumblatt, in turn, addressed the parliament following the vote, saying, “If you want to postpone dealing with the problem, then do so. But the problem will still be [unresolved],” the news site quoted him as saying.

He also slammed the right-wing parties in the parliament and said, “I have not seen anyone dumber than [those parties].”

Shortly after, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for national unity on the conferring of civil rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

“There are humanitarian, social and ethical duties, and the Lebanese state should assume the responsibility of providing them to the Palestinian brothers,” Hariri was quoted as saying in the Lebanese Daily Star. “Lebanon will not dodge these duties, which must be crystal-clear, and not be subject to any misinterpretation.”

The premier said he was committed to obtaining a cross-party agreement in exchange for security cooperation from various Palestinian factions, responsible for upholding law and order in the country’s 12 refugee camps.

Following the bill’s proposal, PLO representative to Lebanon Abdallah Abdallah said there was no intent for Palestinians to ask for political rights or access to state social services. “What the Palestinians want is the right to work like any other foreign nationals,” he said at the time.

Approximately 425,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. According to UNRWA, the UN body set up to assist Palestinian refugees, officially registered Palestine refugees born in Lebanon were allowed by law to work in the clerical and administrative sectors for the first time in 2005.

However, refugees remain unable to work in some professions, for example, as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, or accountants.

In February, Fatah's Secretary-General in Lebanon, Sultan Abul Enayn, publicly confirmed his resignation from his post over a failure of the Palestinian leadership to heed his warnings of increasingly grim circumstances faced by Palestinian refugees.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another ship to Gaza

Conflicting reports on whether the Libyan ship going to Gaza will try to land there or in Al Arish, Egypt.

Gaza aid ship to dock in Egypt after Israel pressure (BBC)

Israeli Arab MIK: Libyan aid ship won't change course, headed for Gaza (Haaretz)

Hopefully, it will land in Egypt, and there won't be another debacle at sea.

Sheikh Jarrah demonstration

Last Friday afternoon I went to the weekly demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah - an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem where Jewish settlers have taken over houses where Palestinians have been living for decades. The demonstration last week was peaceful, but that was not true yesterday, as I heard from several people who were there, who got shoved and elbowed by the Border Police. According to my friends, the police are openly on the side of the settlers and are uniformly hostile to the leftist demonstrators.

See this report in Haaretz: 'Unprecedented police brutality' at East Jerusalem protest.
Some 300 left-wing activists clashed with police on Friday during the weekly protest at the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Ten activists were detained and held for questioning over blocking roadways and failing to comply with police instructions. Every weekend, Israeli protesters demonstrate alongside the Arab locals against settler activity in the Arab neighborhood. The demonstrators decry the settlers' takeover of several homes in the area.

Participating in Friday's protest were renowned Israeli author David Grossman and former Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On.
The clash erupted when demonstrators tried to make their way to the contested homes in the neighborhood. Gal-On and Grossman said that they were pushed aggressively by police officers. Gal-On said that "it was one of the more violent events. We wanted to enter the neighborhood, but the police brutality was unprecedented." "They pushed, and I too got hit," Gal-On went on to say. "They just kicked the young people who were lying on the ground."

Gal-On added that former attorney general Michael Ben-Yair pleaded with the police to calm the situation, but they were uncooperative.

Some six weeks ago, several hundred Hebrew University students and lecturers marched from the Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem to Sheikh Jarrah in protest over the settlers' takeover of local residents' homes. The protest march included such prominent professors as Ze'ev Sternhell, Yaron Ezrahi, Ariel Hirschfeld and others.

The protesters carried signs calling for and end to settlements in East Jerusalem. "Democracy stops at Sheikh Jarrah," some signs said, while others read "stop ethnic cleansing."
Update tonight from Ynet:
8 Sheikh Jarrah protesters ordered to keep away for 2 weeks

Eight Sheikh Jarrah protesters arrested Friday during demonstrations have been ordered to stay away from the neighborhood for two weeks. Police said indictments against the eight would be submitted. Protesters complained Friday that even though their demonstration was passive, police used violent means against them when they tried to approach the Shimon HaTzadik compound. (Shmulik Grossman)
See also the report in Ynet from yesterday: Leftists Clash with Police in Sheikh Jarrah

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Yemenite Jews in Silwan

I don't agree with the political point of view expressed here (Point of no return: The truth about the Yemenite village of Silwan), but the information about Yemenite Jews settling in Silwan in the 1880s is correct. To quote from Wikipedia:

In 1882, a group of Jews arrived from Yemen as a result of messianic fervor. Initially they were not accepted by the Jews of Jerusalem and lived in destitute conditions supported by the Christians of the Swedish-American colony, who called them Gadites. In 1884, the Yemenites moved into new stone houses at the south end of the Arab village, built for them by a Jewish 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 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,”

The Yemenite Jews living in Silwan were evacuated on advice of the British authorities in 1938, during the Arab revolt. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Silwan was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It remained under Jordanian occupation until 1967, when Israel captured the Old City and surrounding region. Until then, the village had delegates in the Jerusalem City Council. (For the footnotes and sources, go to the original Wikipedia article).

See this article, also from the Jewish Refugees blog: Yemenites Lived in Jerusalem since 1881.

To make my political position clear: it's true that there were Yemenite Jews living in Silwan until 1938, and the property they were living on was owned by Jews. It was, however, lost to Israel in the 1948 war, as was all of the Old City. At the same time, Arabs had to leave the Arab neighborhoods of what is now called West Jerusalem, most notably Baka and Katamon. The houses on the street I am currently living on in Baka appear to me to have mainly been built before 1948 (judging by the housing style). The house I am living is a renovated Arab house. If it is morally correct that the Yemenite Jews (or their descendants) should be permitted to return to Silwan, then why is it not equally morally correct for the Arabs of Baka and Katamon (or their descendants) to return and reclaim their houses? I oppose both returns, even though I think that there is a good moral case to be made in both cases, because we are living in the present, not in the past. In our present, the only possible solution, in my opinion, to the situation in Jerusalem, is to enable the city eventually to be the capital of both Palestine and Israel. In order for that to happen, there has to be a recognizably Arab part of the city which would be Palestine's capital. Jews resettling in Silwan or in Sheikh Jarrah are making that much more difficult, if not impossible.

Your tax dollars at work

Tax-Exempt Funds Aiding West Bank Settlements - An important article in the New York Times abut how Americans have sent tax-deductible contributions to settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem at the same time as the U.S. government has consistently viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace. See the graphic below of the groups who have sent money and volunteers to the settlements.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence

Good column today by Nicholas Kristof on the Israeli occupation, especially what's happening in the southern Hebron hills area: The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence.

As he ends his article: "Israel has a point when it argues that relinquishing the West Bank would raise real security concerns. But we must not lose sight of the most basic fact about the occupation: It’s wrong."

Jewish settlement in Silwan: eviction order

One of the sources of the tension in Silwan is the illegal settlement of Jews in houses belonging to Arabs. One of them is called Beit Yehonatan, and yesterday a Jerusalem court ordered the eviction of the Jewish settlers from the house: Settlers lose court battle against East Jerusalem eviction. Let's see if they actually get evicted - even when there are court orders against settlers, they often openly disobey, and the police or army find a way not to fulfill the court order.

Beit Yehonatan

From the Hebrew article, which is more extensive (my translation):
Residents of the contested house, from the organization Ateret Cohanim [which has been involved in moving Jews into Arab sections of east Jerusalem for over twenty years: RL] requested that the court defer the execution of the eviction and sealing order because of the new planning program that the Jerusalem municipality is putting forward for the area, in which it might be possible to give permission at least part of the building. However, the judge, Moris ben Atar, decided in his judgment that even if the planning program would give permission [retroactively, to make the building legal], the matter could take a long time, and even if the order for eviction and sealing were to be overturned, in that case it would be possible to reverse the sealing up and use the building again, if permission was in fact granted.

The spokesman for the residents of Beit Yehonatan responded to the decision of the court that "The residents of Beit Yehonatan intend to appeal the decision to the district court. In addition to that, according to the criteria that the the legal adviser of the municipality has set, Beit Yehonatan has been placed at the bottom of the priority list for enforcement [of the eviction] ...."

On the left, they called for fulfilling the eviction order as soon as possible. "The manipulations of the settlers, with the support of the city, time after time, in order to prevent [the eviction] render the court and its decisions powerless and injure democracy and the rule of law," said Joseph (Pepe) Alalu, member of the Jerusalem city council from the Meretz party. "Enough with the footdragging. They must fulfill the court order immediately, or Israel turns into a banana republic."

In the last week there have broken out severe confrontations between the settlers' guards and the Border Police and dozens of Palestinian residents in the area of Beit Yehonatan, especially next to the settlers' house next to Beit HaDvash. On Sunday the Palestinians reported dozens of injured from the confrontations, most of them from inhaling tear gas, which was fired, according to them, inside the houses. The police reported ten Border Police officers injured from stone-throwing.

The tension in the neighborhood is expected to rise further on Monday, because MK Ori Uriel (National Union) promised, in the name of the settlers organizations, that they will evict the Palestinian families who are living in the house next to Bet HaDvash. The building is the old Yemenite synagogue that was in operation from the late 19th century until the 1930s.
The area of Silwan was one of the neighborhoods where Jews began to settle in the late 19th century as they began to leave the Old City; most Jews moved to new neighborhoods that spread out along Jaffa Road, but small numbers of Jews settled in already existing Arab villages or neighborhoods, like Silwan or near the tomb of Shimon ha-Tzadik north of Damascus Gate. A Yemenite community grew up in Silwan, but the Jews were forced to leave in the 1930s because of the continuing hostility between Jews and Arabs during the late mandatory period, including the Arab Revolt of 1936-39.