The area called Suwanet Salah is part of the land of Abu Dis. There were private properties under private ownership but part of it (that we are discussing here) used to be Waqf land. Before 1967, people donated land on which there would be a school and a sports field.
In 1964, in Jordanian times, the Arab Institute was built as an orphanage and primary school. After 1967, a college for science and technology was added to the school.
When Israel annexed Jerusalem to the State of Israel in 1967, the area next to the school and college (now the sports field and the empty land around it) was annexed to Jerusalem. This area included some private houses, but the land itself was Waqf land, donated for public use.
From 1967, the Israelis refused to allow the people of Abu Dis to do any building at all in that area. For example, boys from the school used to play football there, but when they wanted to build a wall so they didn’t lose the ball, this was not allowed as the Israelis said this belonged to Jerusalem Municipality.
This is why the space remained empty and became the only football field available to Palestinians in the East Jerusalem area.
At that time the buildings nearby were still the Arab Institute and the College of Science and Technology which now had about 800 students and issued diplomas, and some private houses on the south and on the west. This became the main campus of Al Quds University in 1994. There were different parts of this university in other adjacent areas.
Under the Oslo Accords in 1993, the east side of this land (where the Al Quds main campus was) became part of Area B, but the west side was classified as part of the Jerusalem Municipality.
In 2002, when Israel started to build the Separation Wall on the west of Abu Dis, their plan was to take the sports field area inside Jerusalem. There was a strong struggle, led by the Al Quds University and supported by European governments – in particular Germany – to protect this space. They appeared to win as the Wall was eventually built in 2004 to the west of the sports field, but it remained classified as Jerusalem Municipality and there were conditions which said nothing should be built on it.
During this time of struggle, there were protest tents built on the area and the German government funded and environmental area where the university garden can still be found.
When the Israelis were working on the Wall in 2014, they found some historical remains which they took away. They put up the Wall which divided family areas, blocked off the centre of Jerusalem and caused huge harm to the people of the area.
Ten years after that, with international donations, the Al Quds University managed to build a sports faculty on another part of the land, but without building on the sports ground. Students and local people continued to use the sports ground for football, but the Higher Council did not use it for its formal matches, saying there were no proper facilities.
In 2016, the Al Quds University- encouraged by the Higher Council – put a small wall round the area and started to seek funds to develop this into a football pitch with a stadium and proper facilities.
The area right next to the university saw a lot of clashes with the Israeli army. In 2017, the Israelis opened a small security gate in that area, big enough for foot soldiers. This created a danger for the students of the sports faculty as they didn’t know when soldiers would invade.
Around 2015, local investors started to build big blocks of flats in the local area, close to this land, solely for the use of people with Jerusalem IDs. As it was classed as within the Jerusalem Municipality, they could live there without losing their blue IDs even though they were on the other side of the wall from Jerusalem. Hundreds of families started to live there, pay taxes to Jerusalem although they got no services from the city at all.
In the same area too there has been pressure for years from the Israeli E1 project which was about settlement redevelopment. The Israeli government wanted to connect the settlements on the south side of Jerusalem with the settlements on the east side of Jerusalem.
In 2019, there was a huge worry in the area about a new plan that was in the air. There were local rumours of meetings between the Israelis and the University. This plan was to build a road to connect Har Homa settlement (south of Jerusalem) with Qidar settlement (east of Jerusalem and on Abu Dis land). In order to do this, they would need to go through/ past/ over the Wall from west to east. The Israelis were exploring a route from Har Homa to Surbaher to Sheikh Sa’ed going on the west of the Wall and going through the Wall at Suwanet Salah (the area in question) and then on to Qidar. As part of this plan, there would be a special terminal through the Wall at Suwanet Salah specially for the Al Quds University students and faculty – though it would leave local people in the area with miles to go round to other terminals if they wanted to go to Jerusalem. Under this plan, the Israelis would build a military camp on the area we are now calling the sports field, to be in charge of this new ‘terminal’ in the Wall.
During this period the Israeli army came several times and destroyed several houses in Khalit Abed and Suwanet Salah. Some of these houses were old and built before Israel came to the area. But after Israel came, the land officially became “without owners” and destroyed anything that was built there, saying that there were no licences. Obviously the local people don’t agree that there are no owners here – but they don’t have the power to do anything about this. During July 2019, the Israelis destroyed six buildings in the area – there were huge clashes and people were hurt.
The Israelis have also stopped Palestinian building on the other side of the Wall at this point and have destroyed a building put there by the owner of some land on the other side on 31st Jan 2020.
On the night of 17th June, the Israeli army came and destroyed a house and the wall around the football field.
Part of a statement by Al Quds University:
On 17thJune 2020 the Israeli army invaded the Al Quds University campus with dozens of soldiers, military vehicles and bulldozers. They destroyed the wall and the infrastructure of ‘The International Football Stadium’ that the Al Quds University is building on its main campus in Abu Dis. This is part of the on-going attacks on Al Quds University which are trying to make physical and mental destruction on the university and the area around it, and to stop the building of the only international-standard football field in the area.’
Part of a statement by the Higher Council for Youth and Sports:
The Higher Council condemns the destruction of the wall and the football pitch which belong to Al Quds University, which was built on the land of the main campus of Al Quds University in Jerusalem.
Note from CADFA
The people who own the land – the sports field and the empty land – are people from Abu Dis. The University put its hand on it to try to protect it, but the people of Abu Dis are not keen to call this land University land – it is Waqf land (Abu Dis community land).
However everyone is together in wanting to resist further Israeli take-over of any part of the area.
CADFA July 2020