Final Verdict to Demolish Wadi Hillweh Information Center in Silwan

The Jerusalem Court of Local Affairs ruled today (3/7/24) that the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan will be demolished within a year, and imposed a fine of NIS 20,000 on the center. The verdict came following a demolition order issued by the Jerusalem Municipality against a 35 square meter room with floor and roof made of wood, which is used by the residents of the neighborhood for activities for children and youth and as a meeting place for groups of visitors. This small “visitors center” of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center is located some 50 meters away from the “City of David visitor center” operated by the Elad settler organization.

Peace Now: Instead of taking care of all the residents of Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs, the Jerusalem Municipality works to harm the Palestinian residents and make their lives difficult. The tourist settlement in the Palestinian neighborhoods around the Old City, which is massively supported by the government, is aiming at erasing the Palestinian presence from the public space in East Jerusalem. The pressures exerted by the municipality against the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan and the intention to demolish it, are for the political purpose of not allowing the residents to organize and make their voices heard in the public domain.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center. The Court ordered to demolish it by one year.

The Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in Silwan has been suffering for years from many pressures from the authorities and settlers. The Elad Settlers Association established settlements in the neighborhood for dozens of settler families in different houses in the neighborhood. The association operates the “City of David” visitor center, which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the neighborhood each year. It operates archeological excavations on a huge scale, including underground tunnels that passes under the houses of the neighborhood (and even resulted in damage to some of them).

For more information on the activities of the Elad association, see here.

In 2009, the residents of Silwan established the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, which is an important source of information about what is happening in the neighborhood and East Jerusalem in general. They renovated a room in the yard of one of the houses in Silwan so that they could tell the story of the neighborhood to tourists and visitors who come to the “City of David” and do not even know that it is a Palestinian neighborhood whose residents suffer from occupation and settlement.

Immediately upon the establishment of the center, the municipality issued a warning notice demanding the demolition of the visitor’s room due to the lack of a building permit. The execution of the demolition was frozen for ten years due to the opposition of the residents and their claim that it was discriminatory enforcement. However, in 2019 the municipality renewed the demolition procedures, which ended with the verdict today (3/7/24) in the Jerusalem Local Affairs Court.

About the time of the launching of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, some 50 meters from it, “the City of David Visitors Center” of the Elad association was being expanded. The settlers built there several wooden structures, sheds, stone walls, a souvenir shop, a ticket office, a kiosk, offices, toilets, and more. The works and structures that were then placed in the visitor center were done without a permit. Furthermore, a couple of years beforehand, the Elad association submitted a request for a construction permit to place pavilions in the visitor center, but the request was rejected. Despite all this, the municipality did not demolish the illegal structures but rather legalized them retrospectively.

The settler’s visitors center in 2009. The structures were erected without a permit and legalized retrospectively.

In 2013, the municipality demolished a shack built by the residents of Wadi Hilweh for the benefit of community activities for the children of the neighborhood (where there is no community center of the municipality and not even a municipal playground). A similar shack of the Elad association, which is used for community activities, has stood for decades without demolition.

The pressures on the information center did not end only with the demolition order. The Jerusalem Municipality fined the center for a sign placed at the entrance to the site and for flower pots placed on the sidewalk at the entrance to prevent cars from parking and allow safe entry for the children who hang out at the adjacent community center. She even collects property tax from the center (Arnona) in the amount of 12,000 NIS (!) yearly, on the 35 square meter room – under the pretext that it is a business (the activity at the information center is free of charge and there are no sales there). The information center says that members of the Elad association were present at some of the hearings in the local court regarding the demolition, and they believe that it is possible that the people of Elad also complained and exerted pressure to carry out the demolition.