In the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, Palestinian children play surrounded by heavily armed officers and large Israeli flags fluttering on top of the nearest settlements. Silwan is a highly militarized area due to the presence of Jewish settlements in the occupied neighbourhood, where around 500 settlers live among 45 000 Palestinians.
According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, the settlements “infringe the right of the local Palestinians to freedom of movement, privacy and security.” The constant presence of security forces “intimidate the residents” and limit their movements, even of children wanting to play near their homes. Bashar Jamal, advocacy offer for Defense for Children International, warns that children in Silwan are “subjected to various forms of violence”. Experts are concerned about the psychological toll of the violence in the neighbourhood, as children suffer from fear and anxiety.
At Madaa, a community center founded in 2007, volunteers organize sport, art and creative writing activities. The center is aimed at offering children a safe place to gather, and providing them with educational and recreational activities.
Words by Marta Vidal, Jerusalem, February 2016.
“When I go to school the soldiers are always there. Once there were clashes close to my school, there was a lot of tear gas. I don’t like the stun grenades, the sound is frightening. Sometimes when I have to pass by soldiers I am afraid one of the boys will do something and the soldiers might arrest us,” says 12-year-old Amjad.
"I don't like it when I see other children getting arrested. I'm afraid every time I see soldiers", Kadar, 8 years old.
"Life in Silwan is beautiful, but it is dangerous for children because of the army and settlers", Mala, 13 years old.
“I organize activities for children, and when I ask them to draw something they draw soldiers and children being arrested,” says Tala Serhan, librarian and youth coordinator at the local organisation Madaa Creative Center. “I ask them to draw other things, but they say this is what they see and it impacts them a lot,” she says.
"My dream is to become a famous doctor. I want to heal people here in Silwan", Omar, 10 years old.