The real importance of the tent protest

Posted: July 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Last week, my colleagues Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein reported about the harsh treatment some of protesters got from the hand of the police following the previous social justice rally in Tel Aviv. While I don’t ignore the importance of such incidents, they might make one miss the essence of the tent protest.

Unlike in Syria or Libya, where dictators slaughter their own citizens by the hundreds, it was never oppression that held the social order in Israel together, as far as the Jewish society was concerned. It was indoctrination – a dominant ideology, to use a term preferred by critical theorists. And it was this cultural order that was dented in this round of protests. For the first time, a major part of the Jewish middle class—it’s too early to estimate how large is this group—recognized their problem not with other Israelis, or with the Arabs, or with a certain politician, but with the entire social order. With the entire system. In this sense, it’s a unique event in Israel’s history.

This is why this protest has such tremendous potential. This is also the reason that we shouldn’t just watch for the immediate political fallout—I don’t think we will see the government fall any time soon—but for the long term consequences, the undercurrent, which is sure to arrive.

Policeman answers an activist: Police is hard on Arabs and lefties, easy on settlers

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »
Friday in Sheik Jarrah (photo: Yossi Gurevitz)

Friday in Sheik Jarrah (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

For some time now, demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah have been complaining that the Jerusalem police is upholding the law in a discriminating and politically biased way. The police allows rightwing groups to march, demonstrate and carry out all sort of events in the neighborhood – even when they harass local Palestinian residents – while at the same time, it limits the left’s protest to a garden outside the neighborhood.

Since the protest against the colonization of Sheikh Jarrah started, more than 140 protestors have been arrested.

Last week, a group of legal scholars – among them former government attorney Michael Ben-Yair – sent the current government attorney a letter protesting police’s behavior in Sheikh Jarrah. Not that it helped. After last Friday’s rally, which was dispersed by police (video), activist Haggai Matar wrote a post on (Hebrew), protesting police discrimination. “Is the law really a law, or is it just what the policeman feels like doing?” asked Matar.

Moshe Strol, a retired cop, answered Matar (Hebrew). He wrote about his own experiences as a policeman in the north, describing a demonstration in a Druse village in which himself and two other policemen were charged with opening fire and causing the death of a local woman.

As a policeman, I was in thousands of demonstrations. I want to tell you, not in a politically correct way: in demonstrations of Arabs the finger on the trigger is very easy. Demonstrations of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) are treated with kid gloves. Demonstrations of left-wing activists on Friday also means trigger-happy cops. Rightwing activists in the settlements which break olive trees and beat the Border Police are also treated with kid gloves.

These are orders from above. Don’t believe what police officers and the Police Minister say.

Friday in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Yossi Gurevitz)

Friday in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

UPDATE: the following article, protesting Jeruslem’s police “illegal actions and discriminatory behavior”, was published this week on Haaretz‘s online Hebrew edition (Translation courtesy of Coteret).

There is no police in Jerusalem

By Avner Inbar and Asaf Sharon, Haaretz, July 12

More than 40 public figures, academics and intellectuals sent a strong letter last week to the attorney general, asking him to check suspicions of illegitimate and politically tendentious behavior by the Jerusalem police toward the popular protest in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The signatories included a former attorney general, three former ministers of education, a former Knesset speaker, a retired district judge, a former civil service commissioner, Israel Prize winners and university presidents. That such a distinguished group of senior public figures would confront the police attests to the depth of the crisis created by the senior command in Jerusalem.

Since demonstrations against the settlement in Sheikh Jarrah began about seven months ago, more than 120 demonstrators have been arrested, the large majority of whom were detained for 36 hours or more. After the courts ruled that dispersing the demonstrations was illegal, the district police changed tactics: since December the area of the disputed houses has been surrounded with police barriers. But the barriers are used selectively: anyone with a religious-right wing appearance is allowed to pass through them with ease whereas others are forbidden entry.

In March the protesters petitioned the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Jerusalem police to allow them to hold a protest rally in the neighborhood. The district commander argued at the hearing that Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most explosive places in Jerusalem and therefore he could not allow political events to be held there.

Nonetheless, right-wing activists were allowed to hold clearly political events in the neighborhood. The peak of those events was on the last Jerusalem Day, when police allowed hundreds of extreme right-wingers into the area of the disputed houses. All day and all night young religious people danced to songs calling for revenge against the Gentiles in the middle of the street and in the yards of the Palestinian homes, with full police escort. Left-wing activists called to the site by the Arab residents were removed and some were even arrested.

Two days later the left-wing demonstrators wanted to hold their protest in the same place where the right-wing people had demonstrated. When the police officers refused and ordered the demonstrators to move away, hundreds of them sat down on the street in protest. The police responded with severe violence, injured many of the activists and arrested 14 of them, even though the protesters’ demonstration was completely nonviolent and was supported by most of the residents of the neighborhood. During the court hearing the police demanded to remove the activists from Sheikh Jarrah and did not stop short of digressing from the truth, such as imputing baseless charges of assault even after the court rebuked them for doing so.

Even those who were not convinced by the profusion of evidence accumulated over the last months as to the political tendency of the officers of the Jerusalem police would be hard-pressed to ignore the latest decision by the head of the district prosecution unit. He decided to retract the indictments against five extreme right-wing activists who participated in a pogrom in the neighborhood of Jabel Mukabbar two years ago, considering “the fact that it was a gathering that did not rise to the level of a riot and considering the public atmosphere after the criminal attack at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva.”

Footage of the event broadcast by the media clearly shows right-wing demonstrators, some armed with knives and clubs, beating police and pelting Palestinian cars and homes with stones. Following the event senior police officers said they were surprised by “the severity of the riots. It was a very harsh and very violent entry… they used stones, firecrackers, anything.” A senior police officer was quoted as saying “it is not clear how the Jerusalem district command allowed an illegal event to deteriorate to such a level. It is an assault against an innocent population.”

Whereas the Jerusalem police does not see fit to exhaust the proceedings against the Kahanist rioters, dozens of Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are being charged with rioting because they sat on a dead-end street in front of a police barrier preventing them from holding a legal protest. It is evident, therefore, that according to the district officers the offense of rioting does not depend on the actions of the demonstrators but on the message they are carrying.

With its illegal actions and discriminatory behavior, the Jerusalem police under the command of Cmdr. Aharon Franco has become an armed militia in the service of a nationalist ideology. The Franco police is single-handedly undermining the moral and political legitimacy on which it relies as a policing force. As residents of Jerusalem and citizens of Israel we can no longer recognize the authority of the district police that acts as a political party and not as an arm of law enforcement; at least not until there is a thorough examination of its behavior and the fundamental distortions in the district are corrected.

The authors are activists in the “Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity” movement and doctoral candidates in political philosophy at the University of Chicago (Inbar) and Stanford University (Sharon)