Archaeological parks aren’t known for causing a stir, but ancient history collides with the new ‘facts on the ground’ in East Jerusalem. El’ad, one of Israel’s largest and richest settlement organisations, has been working in alliance with the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Antiquities authority to gain control of large areas of land in Silwan, which lies just outside the Old City walls. At least 29 Palestinian homes have been issued with demolition orders and a deadline of September 2012 has been set to clear the area. In place of the bustling Palestinian neighbourhood, a new national park called the King’s Garden will be built. Palestinian homes and shops will make way for shaded walkways, tourist cafés, and gift shops.
Demolitions have already begun. In February 2012, the Jerusalem municipality sent a demolition crew, heavily protected by the Israeli army, into Silwan. Their target was the playground of the Madaa creative centre, a children’s community centre in central Silwan. Residents awoke at 6am to the sight of bulldozers destroying Madaa’s much-loved football field and cultural café. Now, new evidence uncovered by War on Want points to a shocking fact. The bulldozer used in the Madaa playground demolition was made by the iconic British firm JCB.
JCB is known as a symbol of British manufacturing strength, and Chairman Anthony Bamford represents the UK as an International Trade Ambassador with UKTI. But JCB machines have been documented in use during illegal home demolitions and land clearances across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And as War on Want’s new Stop the Bulldozers report documents, armoured bulldozers developed by JCB in the UK have now been sold to the Israeli military.
Originally developed in the UK for the American military, the bulldozers are as tall as a double-decker bus and can travel up to 60mph. The sale of the bulldozers, from JCB’s American arm to Israel via the USA’s Foreign Military Sales Program, was announced by the Israeli military in September 2011 at the same time as a UN report which documented a 40% rise in illegal demolitions of Palestinian homes and property.
Back in East Jerusalem, Silwan is under threat from all sides. While British equipment is used to devastating effect above ground, in the earth below Silwan El’ad is working closely with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to carry out underground excavations. Palestinian homes and properties, including the local mosque and the UNRWA girls’ school, have suffered dangerous collapses as underground archaeological excavations undermine their buildings. The EU heads of mission report on Jerusalem from 2011 noted the close collaboration between El’ad and the Israeli Antiquities authority: “the Israeli Antiquities Authority…is paid directly by El’ad to carry out the excavations without Palestinian involvement or international oversight”. The report raises concerns over the outsourcing of archaeological management and presentation to El’ad, an organisation “whose stated aim [is] to transform Wadi Hilweh/Silwan into an extension of the Old City’s Jewish quarter”.
Yet despite the international outcry, demolitions in Silwan are now just weeks away and Israel and the organisations involved in its illegal settlement activities continue to benefit from preferential treatment. The Israeli Antiquities Authority is rewarded for their participation in archaeological apartheid by participation in EU-funded projects. And UK businesses such as JCB continue to provide the equipment needed for the Israeli occupation, and so profit from Israel’s human rights abuses. Words must be translated into action. Strong action must be taken to stop British equipment being used in human rights violations, and to hold companies to account. Organisations like the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which support settlement activity, must be excluded from participation in EU funded projects.
Only by dismantling international support for the Israeli occupation- whether it comes from business, governments, or civil society- can we begin to put pressure on Israel to change its behaviour. The need for action becomes more urgent every day- not least for the families in Silwan who are waiting for the bulldozers which threaten to wipe their homes off the map.
Image: Wadi Hilweh Centre