Jillian Kestler-DAmours writes:
Dozens of Palestinian children clamoured excitedly in the East Jerusalem village of Silwan on June 26, each clutching the strings to as many helium-filled balloons as they could. Moments later, the children watched as the sky above this flashpoint Palestinian neighbourhood filled with red, green, black and white – the colours of the Palestinian flag – and the hundreds of balloons were taken away by the wind.
“This event is to make the children happier, as they’re letting go of these little balloons, and so they see that we’re taking care of them and support them and will always be here with them,” explained Murad Shafa, a Silwan resident and member of the Popular Committee of al-Bustan, which organised the event to commemorate International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
“These balloons represent every small child that has been arrested and beaten at the hands of police,” Shafa said. “The duty of the police is to protect children and not to try to arrest them. [We and] our children suffer greatly from the municipality and the occupation police.”
Nestled just south of Jerusalem’s Old City walls and the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, in what is known as the Holy Basin area, Silwan is the scene of weekly confrontations between some of the village’s 40,000 Palestinian residents, more than 400 Israeli settlers, and Israeli soldiers, police officers and private settler security guards who maintain a constant presence in the neighbourhood.
An average day in Silwan normally involves a sky filled with a mixture of suffocating Israeli tear gas and thick, black smoke curling up from burning tires in the road, regularly used to block Israeli army vehicles from entering the area. Israeli security forces regularly clash with Palestinian youth in the densely populated neighbourhood, and night raids, arrests, and the use of live ammunition, among other weapons, against residents is commonplace.