On February 13, 2012, Israeli bulldozers arrived before sunrise and without warning to the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem to demolish a newly completed community facility. The “cultural café” was built with funds from several international humanitarian organizations, including the Berkeley, California-based Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) and Playgrounds for Palestine in Pennsylvania. The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority carried out the demolition with Israeli police officers closing off the street and preventing some nearby families from leaving their homes while the demolition was underway.
Jawad Siyam, director of the Madaa Creative Center in Silwan, which runs the cultural café and the sports field in front of it, lamented, "This was the only place in the area to meet, to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan. The children in the neighborhood were very upset to see their treasured place destroyed. "
Palestinians in East Jerusalem pay taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality but it doesn’t provide them with the services it provides for Jewish residents, like public parks and community centers. Palestinians have to create their own recreational spaces. Building permits are routinely denied to Palestinians and legal battles go on for years.
Josie Shields-Stromsness, Program Director of the Middle East Children's Alliance travelled from her home in Bethlehem to visit Silwan just after the demolition took place. “I was horrified. People in the US make donations so children have something as simple and basic as a place to play. Then the Israeli government, that gets millions of US tax dollars, turns around and destroys it!”
The community is determined to rebuild the cultural café in time for a Mothers' Day Celebration on March 21, 2012 (Mothers' Day is celebrated across Arab countries on this date). Siyam says, "We are also waiting for the bill for the bulldozers." This practice of charging owners for demolition of their property began in 2011. “But,” he continues, "We won't pay for this. Someone from the center might have to go to jail but we will refuse to pay."
MECA and Playgrounds for Palestine are collecting funds to help the community rebuild and also asking their supporters to send letters to Israeli officials.
About Playgrounds for Palestine Playgrounds for Palestine is a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization dedicated to upholding the Right to Play for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, and in refugee camps elsewhere.
About the Middle East Children's Alliance Founded in 1988, the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) is a registered nonprofit organization working for the rights and the well-being of children in the Middle East. MECA sends shipments of aid to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and supports projects that make life better for the children.