Max Budovitch: Firstly, could you describe when and why the Madaa Silwan Community Center was founded?
Jawad Siyam: Madaa Silwan Community Center was founded in 2007 due to the lack of services from the municipality in the Silwan Neighborhood--not only a lack of services, but the fact that there were never services at all. We, as Palestinians in East Jerusalem—in Silwan—pay taxes continuously and the municipality does not provide any services. There are no centers—at least none for us—no places for the children to play. So we, the residents, decided that we would not wait for the municipality…and opened a center that most basically serves the children, and also serves the residents, generally speaking.
MB: How exactly was the center founded? Who provided the money, the location, and everything else?
JS: Are you talking about this Center (Madaa Silwan Community Center) or the Wadi Hilweh Information Center?
JS: So I told you that here, firstly, we founded the Center in 2007. The information Center, the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, was in 2009. The Information Center was a response to the politics of Israel and the politics of the settlers—these politics are trying to take the Palestinian character from Silwan. They talk about the continuation of the City of David. To them, the population is not here. To them, the Palestinians are not here. So we wanted to say, “no, we are here, this is our city, and we are here.” Of course in the world, especially in America, in the United States—there are travel groups that come, groups from the American Congress that come to the City of David…and at the same time they say they are against the Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem. This is not correct because when they come to Silwan, to the City of David, they are referring to an occupied area. This is the land of ’67, not the land of ’48, and it is occupied land. Look at how even American politicians and European politicians can ask the Palestinians to stick to the decisions and peace when they themselves don’t even stick to these things. We wanted to tell them that if you don’t understand, we will teach you….this is our city, this is our nation—we are not going to open things up for the settlers, we are present here. This is one of the primary things—that we are present here…that we will continue to make a life here in Silwan….
MB: Do a lot of visitors come by from the City of David, or are they other visitors that come by?
JS: There are some visitors…The lie of the settlers is that they say that the City of David provides a good life and a good economy. But for whom is this economy?...There are no tourists who want to see us. If the tourists were to know that there were Palestinians, they would be afraid….They tell the tourists that this is the City of David…Before ’97 the tourists would come to us to buy souvenirs, or maybe some drinks. Today the tourists have nothing to do with us. They deal only with the City of David, with the settlers. This is an operation from the settlers to kill our economic life—to destroy it through utter destruction. We in Silwan depend on tourism. Now there are no tourists.
MB: This is a general question and a bit broad, but I would like to ask you: What are the primary holy sites here in Silwan and what are their histories?
JS: The holy sites?
MB: Yes, and the tourist sites.
JS: Today, the settlers say that everything is their doing. A little more than a year ago, they found an Islamic grave—more than 1000 years old—and destroyed it. Of course the primary thing that people come to see in Silwan are the Silwan pools—the source of water and the source of life. This is the holy connection…There are also ruins in Silwan. There are Byzantine ruins and ruins from many other civilizations including Islamic civilizations and Arabic civilizations, as well as others. It does not stop at one civilization—we have many civilizations. But the clearest, the clearest and most evident thing, is the Byzantine civilization and the Islamic civilization....Of course there are others, but if you want to talk about one thing you need to talk about everything. The settlers, their work looks at just one history. This is the history of David….We’re not against David because everything is here—David was a guest of ours here. We are here. The Siyam Family is here, for more than 1000 years here in Silwan. It’s not necessary for me to feel like I am special and from this place…Just because King David was here doesn’t mean I need to leave my house. I may ask many questions: I can ask everyone where they are from and to return there….I could ask many in America, both North America and South America, to go back to where they have their roots in Europe. I could ask the Muslims to return to Spain. Why is it allowed that the settlers can say that just because they think that 1000 years ago King David was here that they must return? Why is it that the forbidden is allowed to them? Anything is allowed for them. Killing is allowed, arresting is allowed—everything is allowed for them whereas for us it is forbidden. And this is clear. It is clear to world politics….When Rafik Hariri in Lebanon was assassinated, it became a huge issue. When Israel assassinates a member of the Palestinian Parliament, there’s no issue—that’s Israel fighting the terrorists. Another thing: Israel sets up a siege on Gaza, it is allowed. But when Saddam Hussein occupies Kuwait, it is not allowed….The entire world knows that Israel can do anything, and Israel knows that it can do anything. So why does Israel feel afraid?