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.


  1. I agree with your construction--Silwan should be Palestinian now and West Jerusalem should remain Israeli--but the reason that the presence of Yemenite Jews in Silwan is important to point out is that it responds to the myth perpetuated even by well-meaning supporters of peace that 1948 is nothing but the product of ethnic cleansing by Jews. The presence of Yemenite Jews in Silwan highlights what is the ultimate truth, namely, that we face today a situation that is the direct result of a poorly planned and failed campaign by Palestinian Arabs to thwart partition beginning in November of 1947, followed by an equally failed and boneheaded and tragic invasion by nations surrounding the newly-born Israel in May of 1948.

  2. You make the sweeping statement as a matter of fact that we all live in the present, not the past. But if you reflect and investigate, you'll find this is not a matter of fact.
    As for a solution, I don't believe the Two States for Two People is sustainable. It foreseee that there will be one state for one compound Israelite nation - of Jewish, Arabs (and other) tribes

  3. Where is Silwan?
    Silwan is a neighborhood in the southern part of East Jerusalem, adjacent to the Old City. It is built on the slope descending from the Mount of Olives. The City of David (Ir David) archeological site is contained within Silwan.
    In 1967, after the annexation of East Jerusalem, Silwan was included in the municipal boundaries of the City of Jerusalem.

    Who lives and has lived in Silwan?
    Silwan was named after the Siloam Pool that was Jerusalem’s water reservoir during biblical times.
    King Hezekiah’s aqueduct from the 8th century BCE was discovered in this area. The tunnel runs under the biblical City of David moving water from the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam. This aqueduct contained one of the oldest known Hebrew inscriptions. (The Turks removed this tablet to Istanbul as Ottoman cultural property.)

    In 2005, archeologist uncovered a large building that is likely either part of King David’s palace or part of a city wall from the Prophet Nehemiah’s period.

    The Silwan area has been continuous inhabited since at least the 9th century CE. In the 9th century CE, Karaite Jews established a community on the western side of the slope and resided there for several hundred years.

    The village of Silwan, which is mostly located on the eastern side of the slope, dates back to the 16th century CE and its residents have been primarily Arabs.

    In 1873 Sephardic Jews from the Old City purchased land and built houses in an area outside of the village. In 1881, a group of Yemenite Jews joined them. About 200 Yemenite families were living in the Silwan area by 1884.

    According to the 1915 Ottoman census, a population of 500 people resided in the village.
    It is not known how many Jews lived in the area before the riots of 1921 when the Arab community attacked the Jewish community around Silwan.

    The British 1922 Palestine census noted a 300 percent increase in population in Silwan to about 1900 residents. This population was predominately Muslim (80%), with minorities of Jews (18%) and Christians (2%).

    The Arab community again attacked the Jewish community around Silwan in the 1929 riots. Under pressure from the British Mandate Authority, many Jewish families were forced to leave
    the neighborhood. They returned in 1930 and rebuilt their homes, only to be evacuated by the British in 1938 at the height of the Arab Revolt.

    There was no Jewish presence in Silwan between 1939 and 1967. From 1948 until 1967, Silwan was under Jordanian rule.