Silwan or Wadi Hilweh is a predominantly Palestinian
Palestinian people
The Palestinian people, also referred to as Palestinians or Palestinian Arabs , are an Arabic-speaking people with origins in Palestine. Despite various wars and exoduses, roughly one third of the world's Palestinian population continues to reside in the area encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza...

 village adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem. In recent years a small Jewish minority of 40 families has settled in the area. The village is located in East Jerusalem
East Jerusalem
East Jerusalem or Eastern Jerusalem refer to the parts of Jerusalem captured and annexed by Jordan in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and then captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War...

, an area occupied by Jordan from 1948 until the 1967 Six-day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

 and by Israel since then
Israeli-occupied territories
The Israeli-occupied territories are the territories which have been designated as occupied territory by the United Nations and other international organizations, governments and others to refer to the territory seized by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria...

, and later annexed into the Jerusalem municipality's borders by Israel. The village is today on both sides of the Kidron Valley
Kidron Valley
The Kidron Valley is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem which features significantly in the Bible...

 and runs alongside the eastern slopes of Jabal al-Mukaber
Jabel Mukaber
Jabel Mukaber is a predominantly Arab neighborhood in southern East Jerusalem. It is bordered by Armon HaNetziv to the west, Abu Tor and Silwan to the north and Sur Baher to the south...

. Silwan has a population of 31,000. mostly Palestinians.


Siloam is an ancient Greek name derived from the more ancient Hebrew: Shiloah, the Arabic: Silwan, was in turn derived from the Greek, Siloam
Siloam is an ancient Greek name derived from the more ancient Hebrew Shiloah. The Arabic, Silwan, was derived form the Greek, Siloam. It is an ancient site in Jerusalem, south of the Old City.-Antiquity:...



Historically, Silwan was located on the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, above the outlet of the Gihon Spring
Gihon Spring
The Gihon Spring was the main source of water for the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem. One of the world's major intermittent springs - and a reliable water source that made human settlement possible in ancient Jerusalem - the spring was not only used for drinking water, but also...

 opposite the City of David. The villagers took advantage of the arable land in the Kidron Valley which was once part of King Solomon's Royal Gardens to grow vegetables for market in Jerusalem. Nineteenth century travelers describe it as verdant and cultivated, and perched on a steep, slippery scarp cut into hillside.

Ancient period

Biblical sources describe Shiloah area as "the waters of Shiloah go softly" (from the Gihon spring
Gihon Spring
The Gihon Spring was the main source of water for the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem. One of the world's major intermittent springs - and a reliable water source that made human settlement possible in ancient Jerusalem - the spring was not only used for drinking water, but also...

) and "the Pool of Siloam
Pool of Siloam
Pool of Siloam is a rock-cut pool on the southern slope of the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem, located outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast. The pool was fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, carried there by two aqueducts.-History:The Pool of Siloam is mentioned...

" watering King Solomon's Royal Garden and later a staging area for Jewish pilgrims during the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot wherein the spring-fed pools were used to wash and purify the supplicants who ascend the Great Staircase to the Temple Mount
Jerusalem pilgrim road
The Jerusalem pilgrim road is an ancient road used by ritual processions ascending from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount via the Hulda Gates in the Southern Wall.-History:...

 while singing hymns based on Psalms.

Talmudic sources describe Shiloah as the center of Eretz Israel (Zamib i 5). On Sukkot
Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei . It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.The holiday lasts seven days...

 water was brought from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple and poured upon the altar (Suk v. 1.) and the priests also drank of this water (Ab. N. R. xxxv).

Necropolis of the biblical kingdom

The village is built atop and around the necropolis of the Biblical kingdom. The necropolis
A necropolis is a large cemetery or burial ground, usually including structural tombs. The word comes from the Greek νεκρόπολις - nekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead"...

, or ancient cemetery, is an archaeological site of major significance. it contains fifty rock-cut tombs of distinguished calibre, assumed to be the burial places of the highest ranking officials of the Judean kingdom. Tomb inscriptions are in Hebrew. The "most famous" of the ancient rock-cut tombs
Rock-cut tombs
A rock-cut tomb or Koka is a burial chamber that is cut into the living rock usually along the side of a hill. It was a common form of burial for the wealthy in ancient times in several parts of the world....

 in Silwan is finely carved the one known as the Tomb of Pharaoh's daughter
Monolith of Silwan
The Monolith of Silwan, also known as the Tomb of Pharaoh's daughter is a cuboid rock-cut tomb located in Silwan, Jerusalem dating form the period of the Kingdom of Judah; the latter name refers to a recent tradition that the tomb was built by Solomon for his Egyptian wife...

. Another notable tomb, called the Tomb of the Royal Steward is now incorporated into a modern-period house. The ancient inscription informs us that it is the final resting place of ""...yahu who is over the house." The first part of the Hebrew name is effaced, but it refers to a Judean royal steward or chamberlain. It is now in the collection of the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...


All of the tombs were long since emptied, and their contents removed. A great deal of destruction was done to the tombs over the centuries by quarrying and by their conversion for use as housing, both by monks in the Christian period, when some were used as churches, and later by Muslim villagers. "When the Arab village was built; tombs were destroyed, incorporated
in houses or turned into water cisterns and sewage dumps."

Muslim period

Local folklore indicates that the construction of Silwan originated with the arrival of the Rashidun Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab
`Umar ibn al-Khattāb c. 2 November , was a leading companion and adviser to the Islamic prophet Muhammad who later became the second Muslim Caliph after Muhammad's death....

. According to one resident, the Greek proprietors of Jerusalem were impressed by the humble majesty of the Caliph as he entered on foot while his servant rode in on camel, and presented him with the key to the city. The Caliph thereafter granted the wadi to "Khan Silowna," an agricultural community of cave dwellers living around the valley spring.

Silwan is mentioned as "Sulwan" by the Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 writer and traveller al-Muqaddasi
Muhammad ibn Ahmad Shams al-Din Al-Muqaddasi , also transliterated as Al-Maqdisi and el-Mukaddasi, was a medieval Arab geographer, author of Ahsan at-Taqasim fi Ma`rifat il-Aqalim .-Biography:Al-Muqaddasi, "the Hierosolomite" was born in Jerusalem in 946 AD...

. In 985, he wrote "The village of Sulwan is a place on the outskirts of the city [Jerusalem]. Below the village of 'Ain Sulwan (Spring of Siloam), of fairly good water, which irrigates the large gardens which were given in bequest (Waqf
A waqf also spelled wakf formally known as wakf-alal-aulad is an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law, typically denoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes. The donated assets are held by a charitable trust...

) by the Khalif 'Othman ibn 'Affan for the poor of the city. Lower down than this, again, is Job's Well (Bir Ayyub). It is said that on the Night of 'Arafat the water of the holy well Zamzam
Zamzam Well
The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, east of the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam...

, at Makkah
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

, comes underground to the water of the Spring (of Siloam). The people hold a festival here on that evening."

In 1596, Ayn Silwan appeared in Ottoman tax registers.

In 1834, during a large-scale peasants' rebellion against Ibrahim Pasha
Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt
Ibrahim Pasha was the eldest son of Muhammad Ali, the Wāli and unrecognised Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. He served as a general in the Egyptian army that his father established during his reign, taking his first command of Egyptian forces was when he was merely a teenager...

, thousands of rebels infiltrated Jerusalem through ancient underground sewage channels leading to the farm fields of the village of Silwan. A traveler to Palestine in 1883, T. Skinner, wrote that the olive groves near Silwan were a gathering place for Muslims on Fridays.

In the mid-1850s, the villagers of Silwan were paid £100 annually by the Jews in an effort to prevent the desecration of graves on the Mount of Olives. Jewish visitors to the Western Wall
Western Wall
The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount...

 were also required to pay a tax to the inhabitants of Silwan, which by 1863 was 10,000 Piastre
The piastre or piaster refers to a number of units of currency. The term originates from the Italian for 'thin metal plate'. The name was applied to Spanish and Latin American pieces of eight, or pesos, by Venetian traders in the Levant in the 16th century.These pesos, minted continually for...


Yemenite village

In 1881–1882, a group of Jews arrived from Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

 as a result of messianic fervor. Initially they were not accepted by the Jews of Jerusalem and lived in destitute conditions supported by the Christians of the Swedish-American colony, who called them Gad
Gad may refer to:In religion:*Gad , the founder of the tribe of Gad and seventh son of Jacob*Gad , King David's seer or prophet*Gad , a pan-Semitic deity worshipped during the Babylonian captivity...

ites. By 1884 they had settled into new stone houses at the south end of the Arab village, built for them by a Jewish charity called Ezrat Niddahim. Up to 200 Yemenite Jews lived in the newly built neighborhood, called Kfar Hashiloach or the "Yemenite Village." Construction costs were kept low by using the Shiloach spring as a water source instead of digging cisterns. An early 20th century travel guide writes: In the "village of Silwan, east of Kidron … some of the fellah dwellings [are] old sepulchers hewn in the rocks. During late years a great extension of the village southward has sprung up, owing to the settlement here of a colony of poor Jews from Yemen, etc. many of whom have built homes on the steep hillside just above and east of Bir Eyyub."

During the 1921 Jaffa riots
Jaffa riots
The Jaffa riots were a series of violent riots in Palestine on May 1–7, 1921, which began as a fight between two Jewish groups but developed into an attack by Arabs on Jews during which many were killed...

, Jewish resident of Silwan were attacked, resulting in a few deaths and destroyed homes. In the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine many of the Jewish residents fled or were forced out of Silwan, and in 1938, the remaining Yemenite Jews in Silwan were evacuated by the British authorities. According to documents in the custodian office and real estate and project advancement expert Edmund Levy, the homes of the Yemenite Jews were occupied by Arab families without compensation. After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Silwan was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which expropriated land owned by the Jews. It remained under Jordanian occupation until 1967, when Israel captured the Old City and surrounding region. Until then, the village had delegates in the Jerusalem City Council.

Urban growth

At the time of the 1922 census of Palestine, "Selwan (Kfar Hashiloah)" had a population of 1,699 Muslims, 153 Jews and 49 Christians. In the same year, Baron Edmond de Rothschild bought several acres of land there and transferred it to the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association
Palestine Jewish Colonization Association
The Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym PICA , was established in 1924 and played a major role in supporting the Yishuv in Palestine until its disbandment in 1957....

. By the time of the 1931 census
1931 census of Palestine
The 1931 census of Palestine was the second census carried out by the authorities of the British Mandate of Palestine. It was carried out on 18 November 1931 under the direction of Major E. Mills. The first census had been conducted in 1922...

, Silwan had 630 occupied houses and a population of 2,553 Muslims, 124 Jews and 91 Christians (the last including the Latin, Greek and St. Stephens convents).

The British Mandatory government began annexing parts of Silwan to the Jerusalem Municipality, a process completed by the final Jordanian annexation of remaining Silwan in 1952.

In the twentieth century, Silwan grew northward towards Jerusalem, expanding from a small farming village into an urban neighborhood. Modern Arab Silwan encompasses Old Silwan (generally to the south), the Yemenite village (to the north), and the once-vacant land between. Today Silwan follows the ridge of the southern peak of the Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge in East Jerusalem with three peaks running from north to south. The highest, at-Tur, rises to 818 meters . It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes...

 to the east of the Kidron Valley, from the ridge west of the Ophel
The City of David is the oldest settled neighborhood of Jerusalem and a major archaeological site due to recognition as biblical Jerusalem. It is a narrow ridge running south from the Temple Mount. It was a walled city in the Bronze Age and, according to tradition, it is the place where King...

 up to the southern wall
Southern Wall
The Southern Wall is a wall at the southern end of the Temple Mount and the former southern side of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It was built during King Herod's expansion of the Temple Mount platform southward on to the Ophel.-Construction:...

 of the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

/Haram al-Sharif.

Silwan has also expanded onto designated greenspace
Open space reserve
Open space reserve, open space preserve, and open space reservation, are planning and conservation ethics terms used to describe areas of protected or conserved land or water on which development is indefinitely set aside...

 on the floor of the Kidron Valley
Kidron Valley
The Kidron Valley is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem which features significantly in the Bible...

; a highly controversial proposal would restore the part of the valley now occupied by illegally constructed housing as a park to be called the Garden of the King
Garden of the King
The Garden of the King is a controversial proposed development project in Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley to the south of the Temple Mount at the edge of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. The land is traditionally considered as once part of the royal gardens of the Israelite kings...

. UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk said of the plan that "international law does not allow Israel to bulldoze Palestinian homes to make space for the mayor’s project to build a garden, or anything else," adding that the plan "should be seen within the context of Israel’s persistent, systematic approach to driving Palestinians out of East Jerusalem".

Modern Jewish settlement

The City of David (Hebrew: Ir David), the archeological site of the original site of Jerusalem, is located within Silwan. Since Israel gained control over East Jerusalem in 1967, Jewish organizations have sought to re-establish a Jewish presence in Silwan. In 1987, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations wrote to the Secretary-General to inform him of Israeli settlement activity; his letter noted that an Israeli company had taken over two Palestinian houses in the neighborhood of al-Bustan after evicting their occupants, claiming the houses were its property. On October 9 1991, several dozen students of a rabbinical college, accompanied by several right-wing Knesset
The Knesset is the unicameral legislature of Israel, located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.-Role in Israeli Government :The legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister , approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government...

 members, expelled Arab residents from several buildings and occupied them. The settlement operation, occurring a few days before the arrival in Israel of US Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 James Baker
James Baker
James Addison Baker, III is an American attorney, politician and political advisor.Baker served as the Chief of Staff in President Ronald Reagan's first administration and in the final year of the administration of President George H. W. Bush...

, was interpreted by Labor party members as a deliberate provocation orchestrated to thwart peace negotiations. Wadi Hilweh, an area of Silwan close to the western wall of the Old City, and its neighborhood of Al-Bustan, has been ever since a focus of Jewish settlement.

Ir David Foundation
Ir David Foundation
Ir David Foundation or the Elad Association is an Jerusalem-based, Israeli association which aims to strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and renew the Jewish community in the City of David, which is part of the village of Silwan...

, a settlement organization and the Ateret Cohanim
Ateret Cohanim
Ateret Cohanim, , also known as Ateret Yerushalyim, is a Religious Zionist yeshiva located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel. Founded in 1978, it uses the building of the historic Torath Chaim Yeshiva...

 organization, are working to increase Jewish settlement in Silwan in cooperation with the Committee for the Renewal of the Yemenite Village in Shiloah. In 2003, Ateret Cohanim set a precedent in the neighborhood, building the seven-story Beit Yehonatan development (named after Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan Jay Pollard worked as a civilian intelligence analyst before being convicted of spying for Israel. He received a life sentence in 1987....

) without a permit; four years later, the courts ordered the eviction of the tenants, but after a few months the city of Jerusalem approved the construction retroactively. Building on ongoing housing construction in conjunction with archaeological excavation, in 2008 the Jerusalem municipality began the process of approving a plan for a new housing complex in a part of Silwan located 200 meters from the Old City walls, in an area considered one of the most sensitive in the present negotiations with the Palestinians over the final-status agreement. The plan includes a synagogue, 10 apartments, kindergarten classrooms, a library and underground parking for 100 cars.

Legal issues regarding Jewish acquisition of property

In the 1980s, Haaretz reports, the Housing Ministry "then under Ariel Sharon, worked hard to seize control of property in the Old City and in the adjacent neighborhood of Silwan by declaring them absentee property. The suspicion arose that some of the transactions were not legal; an examination committee...found numerous flaws." In particular, affidavits claiming that Arab homes in the area were absentee properties
Land and Property Laws in Israel
Land and property laws in Israel provide a legal framework which governs land and property issues in Israel. At its establishment, Israel continued to apply the pre-existing Ottoman and British land law...

, filed by Jewish organizations, were accepted by the Custodian without any site visits or other follow-up on the claims. Under the cover of the Absentee Property Law, and indirect land sales, Jews have seized Arab homes while their occupants were still living there. In other cases, the Jewish National Fund
Jewish National Fund
The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The JNF is a quasi-governmental, non-profit organisation...

 has signed protected tenant agreements with Ir David Foundation (Elad)
Ir David Foundation
Ir David Foundation or the Elad Association is an Jerusalem-based, Israeli association which aims to strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and renew the Jewish community in the City of David, which is part of the village of Silwan...

, allowing the settler group to engage in construction without going through the tender process.

As of 2004, more than 50 Jewish families live in the area, some in homes acquired from Arabs who claim they did not know they were selling their home to Jews, some in Beit Yehonatan.

Rabbis for Human Rights
Rabbis for Human Rights
Rabbis for Human Rights-Israel is an Israeli human rights organisation describing itself as "the rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights"....

 accused ElAd of creating a "method of expelling citizens from their properties, appropriating public areas, enclosing these lands with fences and guards, and banning the entrance of the local residents...under the protection of a private security force."

Housing demolition & construction permits

In 2005, the Israeli government planned to demolish 88 Arab homes in al-Bustan neighborhood built without permits but they were not found illegal in a municipal court.

According the State Comptroller’s report, there were 130 illegal structures in Silwan in 2009, a tenfold increase since 1967. When enforcement of the building code began in al-Bustan in 1995, thirty illegal structures were found, mostly old residential buildings. By 2004, the number of illegal structures rose to 80. The municipality launched legal proceedings against 43 and demolished 10, but these were soon replaced by new buildings.

The group Ir Amim
Ir Amim
Ir Amim is an Israeli non-profit organization founded in 2004 that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem. It seeks to ensure the "dignity and welfare of all its residents and that safeguards their holy places, as well as their historical and cultural heritages"According to Ir...

 argues that the illegal construction is due to insufficient granting of permits by the Jerusalem municipality. They say that under Israeli administration, fewer than 20 permits, mainly minor, were issued for this part of Silwan, and that as a result, most building in this part of Silwan and the whole neighbourhood generally lack permits.

In 2010, Ir Amim's petition to halt a municipal zoning plan for the Wadi Hilweh area was rejected. The plan does not call for demolition of illegal construction, but rather regulates where construction may continue. The group said that the plan favored the interests of ElAd and the neighborhood's Jewish residents, while ElAd said that the plan allotted only 15 percent of construction to Jews versus 85 percent to Arab residents. Additionally, Ir Amim said alleged that Elad's willingness to finance part of the plan “raised great suspicions of bribery.”

The mukhtar
Mukhtar meaning "chosen" in Arabic, refers to the head of a village or mahalle in many Arab countries as well as in Turkey and Cyprus. The name refers to the fact that mukhtars are usually selected by some consensual or participatory method, often involving an election. Mukhtar is also a common...

, or community leader of Silwan expressed dismay at Ir Amim's petition against the plan. “We have said that there are good aspects of the plan and there are bad aspects of the plan, we’re still working it all out. But to come and say that the whole plan is bad, and to ask that it be done away with, then what have you accomplished? Nothing.”

Archaeological excavation

The ridge to the west of the traditional village of Silwan, known as the City of David, is believed to be the original Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 and Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 site of Jerusalem. Archaeological exploration began in the 19th-century and is ongoing. Vacant during most of the Ottoman period, expansion onto this ridge by Jewish families coming out of Jerusalem and Arab families from Silwan began in the late 19th-century. It is now claimed as an integral part of Arab Silwan. Islamic-era skeletons discovered in the course of excavations were removed from the site without informing the Muslim authorities and have disappeared. ElAd was accused of conducting archaeological digs on Palestinian properties. Elad began the City of David tunnels without applying for a permit from the Jerusalem municipality. In April 2008, the Israeli High Court
Supreme Court of Israel
The Supreme Court is at the head of the court system and highest judicial instance in Israel. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem.The area of its jurisdiction is all of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. A ruling of the Supreme Court is binding upon every court, other than the Supreme...

 issued a temporary order staying further construction. With the insertion of permanent steel girder members for support in 2009, the corridor tunnel transects an ancient Roman cardo
The cardo was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called cardo maximus.Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus...

 (covered street) and opens to a large stone room once used as a synagogue.

External links

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