The Arab Mukhtar or elder of Silwan, the notoriously Islamist neighborhood just to the east of the Old City, says a German news agency pays Arab youths to riot against City of David excavation.
The City of David (Ir David) organization has purchased several properties in Silwan, also known as Shiloach due to the Temple-era spring located in the valley. In addition to the vast archeological and tourist sites currently located there, excavations are ongoing – though they are often disrupted by groups of Arabs and left-wing Jews who have claimed that they are disturbing the lives of local Arabs.
Hussein Siyam, the Mukhtar of Silwan, is the tribal leader of the two largest clans in the valley to the east of Jerusalem’s Old City. He says that he has been involved in negotiations with Ir David since the beginning. “Anyone who tells you that there is new digging going on below the houses is lying,” he said. “The dig existed already and they are just cleaning it out.”
He blames two entities for the disturbances. “The Committee for the Protection of Property in Silwan is a group that gets money from Arab states and the Palestinian Authority,” said. “And so, it is interested in spending that money on conflict.”
The second source is more nefarious. “A German news company recruits activists here and gives them money to make problems in order to report on them,” he claimed.
A German journalist, also at the Mukhtar’s home, told his colleagues that the claim seemed a bit “Middle Eastern” to him, but he conceded that local Arabs were hired by foreign agencies – conceivably able to get the news fastest because they are involved in producing it.
Mukhtar – Leader or Sell-Out?
Though the title of Mukhtar no longer lends much authority with the younger generation of Arabs, Siyam remains a fixer, solving problems between local Arabs and the municipality of Interior Ministry.
Most recently, he says, the municipality granted him the ability to authorize 80 square meters of additional building for every home in Silwan – a claim that refutes claims by left-wing groups such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Peace Now that eastern Jerusalem Arabs cannot get building permits.
Siyam says that three Islamist groups are active in his village – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizb a-Tahrir. Fatah is also involved, he said.
All the groups work against the Mukhtar in many ways, saying his ties with Israel make him a sell-out. They encourage local Arabs to boycott municipal elections and point out that the Mukhtar receives his salary from the Israeli government.
Siyam says he stopped getting paid from the Interior Ministry years ago. He also laments that the police no longer come to him with communal issues. He admits that he has little control over the youth however. “Born into Intifada, they feel they have reached a dead end,” he says. He says that peace can be brought about through dialogue, but the Islamist groups threaten anyone who has anything to do with “the Jews.”