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How Silwan Became an Arab Neighborhood, by Luke Moon (Providence via Mosaic)

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July 17, 2019

A recent article in the New York Times complained of a “right-wing Jewish settler group” that “has moved hundreds of Jews” into the predominantly Arab eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. But, notes Luke Moon, the article says nothing about the area’s history:

Silwan’s first inhabitants were Yemenite Jews who in 1881 spent six months traveling to Jerusalem. These Jews were inspired to travel the long, arduous journey on the [expectation] that the messiah would come to Jerusalem the following year. . . . Settling on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley, [they] built a thriving community and established a synagogue, the same synagogue that the “right-wing Jewish settler group” is rebuilding.

Perhaps an article that mentions the 5,000 Arab inhabitants of Silwan might mention how it became a Palestinian neighborhood when it started as a Yemenite Jewish village. As the inhabitants in Jerusalem felt more confident to move out of the walled city, the original village expanded to include not just Jews but also Muslim and Christian Arabs, too. An early British Mandate-period census shows Silwan to be a mixed village of almost 2,000 people, of whom the Jews made up about 10 percent. But during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt, the village of Silwan was ethnically cleansed of all Jews, and Arab families moved into the homes of Yemenite Jews. One might wonder if the descendants of those Yemenite Jews still have the keys to their homes.

Moreover, the very name Silwan derives from the Siloam Pool, the First Temple-era water source mentioned, as Moon goes on to explain, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and significant to Jews and Christians alike.

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