Jawad Siyam is competing for his home against the well-financed settler group Elad.
By Nir Hasson / Haaretz
August 4, 2017
“These are not equal forces competing in the bidding. On one side is a simple Palestinian family of limited means, while on the other is a strong settler group with an annual budget of tens of millions of shekels assisted by unknown but wealthy foreign groups focusing on land acquisition, for which money poses almost no limits.”
Settlers and Palestinians are bidding for a property in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that could decide the whole area’s character, local people say. The contestants: the settler group Elad and the man considered the Palestinian leader in Silwan, Jawad Siyam.
An invitation for bids was published by the Finance Ministry’s Custodian of Absentee Property and the Israel Land Authority, offering for sale a one-quarter stake in a building of four apartments. The invitation expires in less than three weeks. Siyam says the custodian is doing everything possible to help the settlers take over his home.
“Since 1994 we have been in the courts facing the settlers,” Siyam says. “If we lose now we’ll have only one quarter of the building and it will be much easier for them to evict us. But I won’t leave; they’ll have to kill me first.”
Both Elad and the finance minister say they are doing everything according to the law.
Siyam, 48, lives in Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh section, almost all of it located within the City of David National Park run by Elad. Siyam established the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, which tries to counter Elad’s attempts to take over the area by publicizing events both in the neighborhood and in wider East Jerusalem.
He has also set up a children’s club with day camps, computer groups and other educational activities. He lives in a building that was owned by his family, next to a property that was seized by Elad, which for years has striven to obtain ownership over the building and evict the Siyams.
The story of Siyam’s house is similar to that of many houses in Silwan. The original owner died and the heirs were divided. Some sold their stake in the building to straw buyers, who transferred it to the settlers, while others are abroad, considered absentees. The rest must contend with legal challenges by Elad, which seeks to take over the building.
In the case of the Siyam family, the owner, Siyam’s grandmother, died in 1991. She left the building to eight heirs. Four of them sold their stake to people who handed it over to Elad, so now the group owns half the building. Two other daughters were in Jordan in 1967 and thus are considered absentees. Their one-quarter stake is owned by the state through the custodian. Two other heirs, including Siyam, still live there.