MIDDLE EAST BUREAU
JERUSALEM—Thirty hired guns on a mission nothing less than biblical bore down on the impoverished Arab East Jerusalem enclave of Silwan in a pre-dawn operation last Sunday.
With stealth-like precision, they crept toward deliverance in tiptoe silence. At 2:45 a.m., one of the gunmen reached out to carefully squeeze shut a yipping puppy's jaws so as not to alarm sleeping neighbours. A second produced a cordless drill and pointed its carbide tip into the lockset of the target door.
Moments later, they were in. And a few minutes after that, the Arabs were out. Twelve people in all, members of the Ajlouni family, awakened and ousted into darkened streets from a home no longer theirs. Hostile words were exchanged, but not a drop of blood was shed. The private Israeli security team executed its mission perfectly.
In a conflict marked by daily death, events such as last weekend's eviction drive tend not to make the headlines. But make no mistake — Silwan, the hotly disputed neighbourhood in the historic sloping valley beneath the religiously revered southern ramparts of the Old City walls, just got a little more Jewish, a little less Palestinian.
The whys and wherefores of the paramilitary operation speak volumes about how the hallowed soil of Jerusalem remains far and away the most vexing dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
To the Palestinians turfed last Sunday, the nighttime expulsions bore all the hallmarks of what they see as a nefarious campaign to quietly make Jerusalem Jewish beyond any hope of reclamation. Every home lost, they say, is but one unnecessarily provocative step farther away from the peaceful co-existence envisioned under the collapsed Oslo peace process.
To the Israelis behind the raid — the not-for-profit foundation known as Elad — nothing could be further from the truth. Sunday's reclamation was not an act of illegal settlement, but rather a glorious and legally binding act of Jewish redemption aimed at the extraordinarily precious archeological site that lies beneath these white stone homes.
For this, they say, is not Silwan, but Ir David — the true City of David — and as such, nothing less than the spiritual centre of the world.