Surviving Al-Quds Tunnels

Amin al-Siyam's family wakes up every night at the sounds of Israelis digging underneath their home in the holy city of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).

Surviving Al-Quds Tunnels

"We hear them at night, under the house," Siyam told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Thursday, March 27.

"Sometimes the whole building shakes."

Israelis are digging a network of tunnels under Muslim areas in Al-Quds, including the neighborhood of Silwan where Siyam's house is, stretching towards Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.

The digging, Siyam says, usually lasts all night.

"They leave the next morning, early."

Israelis claim the digging, which they call the Silwan project, is to excavate an ancient tunnel.

The digging started in 2004 but the Israelis only began working north in the direction of Haram al-Sharif last month.

The Timesrevealed earlier this month that the tunnels, largely based on historical water wells or buried pilgrim routes, stretch from the Pool of Siloam in Silwan to the south until joining up with Al-Aqsa's Western Wall.

Israel captured and occupied the holy city of Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war before annexing it in a move not recognized by the world community or the UN.

The holy city is now divided into Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.

Secrecy

The tunnel site is surrounded by a high metal fence and residents are not allowed to see what is going underneath their own houses.

"If it is an archaeological site and not a settlement, if it is a tourist site, then why can't we go and see it? askes Ahmed Qarain, 37.

"Why can't anyone see it?"

Israeli activists also have their doubts.

"Nobody knows how long these tunnels are and how far they have excavated so far," Meir Margalit, a spokesman for the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, told AFP.

"Nobody knows anything."

Margalit's group, which opposes and resists Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses, is also troubled by the fact that Ir David Foundation, a settler right-wing group, is standing behind the project.

"They are not just doing this for the benefit of archaeology," insists Margalit.

"The problem is not the archaeological digging; it is the agenda of the people who are behind the digging."

Al-Quds represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict as Jews claim that their alleged Haykal (Temple of Solomon) exists underneath Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

Leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel Sheikh Raed Salah has recently warned that Israel plans to build a colossal synagogue at the heart of Al-Haram and contiguous to Al-Aqsa.

Israeli bulldozers started last year demolishing the wooden bridge leading to Al-Aqsa's Al-Maghariba Gate and two underground rooms.

A part of the road leading to one of the mosque's main gates collapsed in 2004 due to the destructive Israeli digging work.

Changing Realities

But the tunnel digging is not the only problems Palestinians in Al-Quds have to worry about.

Silwan's residents say the Israelis are changing realities in the entire neighborhood.

"You start wondering what is happening when they change the names of places," Qarain says.

"This is Silwan, but they call it Ir David.

"We know this street as Wadi Helwa Siyam, but they put up signs calling it Maale David."

Israel has been working hard over the past years to Judaize the holy city and change its Islamic identity.

It has been adopting a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinians out, including systematic demolition of their homes.

Authorities do not issue building permissions for Palestinians who are also banned from renovating their house without an Israeli permit, which they rarely get.

There are also special IDs for Palestinians living in the Al-Quds without which they would be prevented from entering the holy city.

If Palestinians travel abroad to work or study Israel withdraws their IDs.

IOL

Last Mod: 28 Mart 2008, 08:29
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