Thousands of rightwing Israelis marched today in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, provoked local Palestinian residents and shouted racist chants, among them “let your village burn,” “death to Mohammad” and “death to all leftists”. The event, part of the “Jerusalem Day” celebration, was organized and promoted by the municipality. Jerusalem’s police escorted the parade, and made no attempt to stop the racist calls.
Joseph Dana and I have a cover story for The Nation this week on the Israeli activists who takes part in the unarmed protest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We discuss the history of the joint struggle, its political significance and the challenges lying ahead.
Though we say it in the text several times, it’s important to remember that this is a Palestinian struggle, and the Israelis who take part in it are neither its leaders nor its leading strategists. Jonathan Pollak, whom we interviewed just before he started serving his prison sentence, made sure we understand that:
“The participation of Israelis in demonstrations, unfortunately, does make a difference,” says Jonathan Pollak, one of the first activists to take part in the demonstrations and now media coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a Palestinian umbrella organization of local. “It makes a difference because of the racist nature of our situation. Open-fire regulations, for instance, are a lot more stringent, officially, when Israelis are present. It is, however, important to remember that we are not much more than a side note in the movement, and that it is the Palestinians who are at its center.
“People are often fascinated by the fact that a handful of Israelis cross the lines this way. But currently this is what we really are, a handful, and the real question, in my opinion, is, How come only so few do so? The sad answer is that most Israelis simply don’t care; to most Israelis, Palestinians simply don’t really exist.”
Still, I think that even those handful of activists, as Jonathan rightly refers to them, are important. The Israeli left is going through an ideological and generational revolution. The older generation – you can call it the Peace Now generation – is in decline, and new forces, ideas and tactics are emerging. In a very generalizing way, one could say that the new left is less committed to the Two-States Solution, more critical of Zionism and believes in direct action and cooperation with Palestinians and international activists. The new left is not represented in the Knesset; it mobilizes support through social networks and has reasonably good connections to human rights groups and none-governmental organizations.
The formative years of the older generation were the seventies. Back then, only few would dare discuss the idea of a Palestinian state or a full withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967. The big peace rallies came a decade later, with the Lebanon war and the Intifada, and leading activists from those days entered the Knesset in the nineties. The greatest political achievement of this generation was Oslo; that was also the beginning of its decline. In the next decade or two, the same process could happen with the new left.
It is interesting to hear what Avrum Burg, an old Peace Now activist and former Knesset speaker, has to say on those issues (that’s from the article at The Nation as well):
“In fact, the Israeli left never recovered from Rabin’s assassination (…) Later, Ehud Barak came and presented his personal failure in Camp David [in 2000] as the failure of the entire way. When the head of the peace camp declared that there was no partner on the other side, it opened the door for unilateralism (…) There was something unilateral in Zionism from the start, but it became the only way after Camp David… We built the fence unilaterally, and we left Gaza unilaterally. Barak brought us back to the days of Golda Meir, who denied there is such a thing as a Palestinian people.”
“The meaning of Zionism in Israel today is to be Jewish and not Arab,” says former Speaker Burg, who attends the protest in Sheikh Jarrah regularly… In that context, the left cannot go on calling itself Zionist. We should ask ourselves whether Zionist humanism isn’t a contradiction in terms these days. We should go beyond ethnic democracy and toward a real joint society, in which Jews and Arabs are really equal.”
I believe that the activists of Bi’lin and Sheikh Jarrah, isolated and marginal as they look today, would set the political tone for the Jewish left in the years and decades to come. In 15-20 years, we might even find some of them in Parliament.
The British author visited the Sheikh Jarrah protest – but also intends to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature from the patron of the city’s settlers, mayor Nir Barkat
Authors Ian McEwan and David Grossman at the Sheikh Jarrah protest (photo: Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah)
The celebrated British author Ian McEwan joined today the weekly protest in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families have been evacuated from their homes to make room for Jewish settlers.
Ironically, McEwan arrived to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature from the hands of the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat. Mayor Barkat is one of the driving forces behind recent attempts to expand Jewish settlements and housing projects into Palestinian East Jerusalem. Currently, he even refuses to carry out an Israeli court order demanding the immediate evacuation of a house in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, illegally built by rightwing settlers. Many grassroots activists blame Barkat for the rising tension between Jews and Arabs in the city.
Before flying to Israel, McEwan rejected calls from a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine to turn down the Jerusalem Prize. In his replay he wrote:
“There are ways in which art can have a longer reach than politics […] Your ‘line’ is not the only one. Courtesy obliges you to respect my decision, as I would yours to stay away.”
The protest in Sheikh Jarrah started a year and a half ago, following the evacuation of two Palestinian families from their homes. Since then, more eviction orders have been issued, and construction began for a new housing project for Jews at the site of the old Shepherds Hotel, also in Sheikh Jarrah. Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah, which leads the protest in the neighborhood, has recently organized demonstrations in other parts of the city where Palestinians are threatened by eviction orders and by new municipal plans, among them in Silwan.
Recently, claims have been made public on blogs both in Israel [Hebrew] and outside it about sexual attacks against Israeli and international activists by Palestinians in Palestinian villages and at Sheikh Jarrah. It was further claimed that there is “a conspiracy of silence” surrounding this issue. To this, leftwing activists responded that these news items and posts were published for the sole purpose of delegitimizing the joint activity against the occupation, and that the writers do not have the women’s best interest in mind but rather, hostility to the left and to Palestinians.
Rechavia Berman, editor in chief of the Youpost citizens’ news portal, is the first blogger to attempt an investigation of the reported cases and to try and understand if attacks actually took place, how many attacks actually occurred, and what came of the alleged “conspiracy of silence”.
The gravity of the accusations and the loud echoes of the case made me decide to publish Berman’s piece in full, adapted slightly for the English speaking audience (Hebrew original here). I am grateful to Rechavia for permission to use his text. The translation is courtesy of Dena Shunra.
Youpost investigates: a lefty betrayal or rightwing lies?
Rechavia Berman, Sep 22, 2010
The blogosphere was up in arms yesterday after a column published in First Class News site claimed [Hebrew] that “the left” – and more specifically, that part of the left that regularly demonstrates against the crimes of the separation wall and other land grabs and misappropriations in Jerusalem and the West Bank – was leaving its women activists exposed to sexual harassment on the part of the Palestinians in those villages and neighborhoods where the protests occurred. The article also stated that victims of such harassment were pressed to refrain from filing complaints.
In short, this column, written by attorney Roni Aloni-Sedovnik, claimed that the rights and well-being of the activists were sacrificed on the altar of the fight against the occupation.
This is not the first time this issue has come up. Several months ago, similar concerns were made public, but at the time they were raised by the leftwing organizations themselves, when they published a post on Indymedia site, concerning a workshop dedicated to handling this problem. The wording in this post led many people to suspect that the purpose of this workshop was not to preempt the phenomenon nor to empower the victims but rather to teach them “how to live with harassment.” Many bloggers, including many leftwing ones, condemned this approach. The activists who organized the demonstrations – Anarchists Against the Wall and Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity – already claimed at the time that the accusations were untrue and had ulterior motives.
Adv. Sedovnik’s column at the First Class News inflamed the issue again, not least due to her aggressive writing style and to allegations of new cases “which had been silenced”. Many commenters followed the tone of the article and accused the entire left of hypocrisy.
Careful examination of the facts, however, demonstrates that the column by Adv. Sedovnik – who provides legal advice to victims of sexual assault and who describes her work as “feminist legalism” – is full of gross and tendentious factual errors, and demonstrates a deep hostility to the left and to Palestinians. (Here is just an example: “the peace activists who are afraid that handling the issue would hurt the feelings of Palestinians and their cultural heritage, which sees woman as sexual objects.”)
That said, the problem of sexual harassment of women peace activists does indeed exist, a fact which is not denied by the activists themselves. We have chosen to examine here Adv. Sedovnik’s allegations and the way the entire matter is handled in leftwing organization. Hijab and Burka? Not exactly
First, in contrast to what Adv. Sedovnik said, the American peace activist who was attack in the village of Umm Salmona, was not raped. It was – most fortunately – an attempted rape. This is, of course, a most serious crime, but the facts should be carefully reported. Additionally, it is not true that the victim of this crime had been asked not to file a complaint. A complaint was filed with the Palestinian Police, which the demonstrators see as the appropriate authority for handling events that occur in the Occupied Territories. The perpetrator was arrested by the Palestinian police and spent some time in jail, even if his release was much quicker than we would have wanted.
Onward: in contrast with the statements made both in the Sedovnik column and in other places, no one demanded that demonstrators come to the Occupied Territories or to Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood wearing “hijab, burka, or head covering.” The truth is this: some people in Sheikh Jarrah requested some of the Israeli activists to show consideration for local customs, just as visitors are asked to do in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and in Me’a Shearim.
The request was that they come to demonstrations in what was defined as “appropriate attire” – which consists of regular short sleeved shirts rather than “wife beater” tops. The request was circulated among the various activists and published on websites identified with the demonstrators. Some demonstrators took the request into practice, many others did not, and continued coming to demonstrations in the heat of summer in their skivvies, and as those who were present at the scene can verify, no one said anything to them. As stated, the request was for consideration – no sanctions were imposed, and in any event most of the demonstrators came to Jerusalem attired as per their preferences.
The rape that did not happen
As to the issue of sexual assaults: as stated, in Umm Salmona there was an attempted rape, not a rape. The handling of this involved the collaboration of the Israeli activists and the village popular council. It included removing the attacker from any activity in the village, not only activities involving Israelis and internationals.
According to Tal Shapira, a prominent activist who is at the core of the activists’ attempt to cope with the issue of harassments, and according to testimony by other activists, in that case and in other cases, the activists demand immediate handling of the case by the local community, and made this a condition for further cooperation. This demand was met in full, and for this reason there was no boycotting of the protest, which seems to be what Adv. Sedovnik (and others) demanded.
As to the claim that the demonstrators should have filed a complaint with the police, Shapira says, “right. We’re anarchists. Is it really surprising that we choose to take actions that do not involve the authorities? And I should state that I care about the Palestinian Authority about as much as I do the Israeli government. Instead, we make our foundation work inside our community and the community we work with. This is what we believe in, and this is how we operate.”
Shapira states that the handling of the attempted rape at Umm Salmona, was done throughout with the knowledge and approval of the victim. The girl did eventually exercise her prerogative of filing a complaint with the Palestinian police, and the attacker was apprehended and spent several months in prison. Haaretz newspaper reported that he was released from his imprisonment after he had agreed “to apologize” (The shunning of the attacker by the village is reported here for the first time).
Shapira further states that the victim, who has since returned to her home in the United States, still retains a warm relationship with the activist community and that she had also thanked them in writing for their handling of the matter.
The column that ignited the internet storm mentioned another case of rape in Sheikh Jarrah. Following several communications by activists with the First Class News site, the phrasing was changed to “grievous sexual attack.” It should be noted that no one from the activist community is familiar with this case. Thus, it would be wrong to claim that a campaign of silencing had occurred about it. Despite repeated attempts by various people, no details have been revealed about this case, which no one had heard of prior to the publication of the column. The column itself gave no details about it, and the fact that the allegation has been removed from the site makes it possible that it could have been no more than a rumor.
All of the activists we spoke with were of the opinion that the nature of Adv. Sedovnik’s column reveles and intention to hurt the Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. The artice included a general attack against the women demonstrating against the occupation, regarding what she see as their failure to protest anti-feminist laws of the Hamas. The notion that this should be part of their responsibility as well, say the activists, indicates the true purpose of the piece.
“If anyone even looks at me funny, I don’t keep silent”
Tal Shapira, who is one of the coordinators of the education and handling of this issue, says that there is no silencing about sexual harassment, certainly not in activities run by Anarchists Against The Wall at many villages along the route of the wall. In fact, says Shapira, “the very fact that everyone is suddenly talking about it and that cases are being reported is a direct result of our response to the issue. We are holding educational sessions and workshops, both inside the activist community and in the joint activities with the residents of the villages and communities we demonstrate alongside.
“Five months ago, when a woman wanted to complain she did not have all the tools or the specific avenues for complaint that we have developed in the intervening months. Nowadays, when we are on the bus to the demonstration, we read the first response and first aid instructions in case anyone is hurt, and at the same time we also say what to do in case of being sexually attacked in any way whatsoever, and we point out the specific people on the ground who handle this issue, so that they will know exactly who to talk to.”
[It should be noted that in the Bil’in demonstrations that I attended this spring and summer, this briefing was indeed delivered – N.S.]
“The claim that we are accommodating or somehow blurring the matter is simply incorrect. If anyone even looks at me funny, or at any other woman demonstrating with me, I won’t be silent. If anyone harasses anyone else, the harasser will be expelled from the demonstrations and handled by his community – and I want to state that in all cases that we came across, we have been impressed with the immediacy and firmness of the local popular councils. There was no whitewashing nor sweeping under carpets; quite to the contrary, they saw it as being just as serious a violation as we did. There was another serious case in another struggle zone (not in Sheikh Jarrah – R.B.) and there, too, the assaulter was expelled and handled, in consultation with the victim and while giving her needs top priority. As stated – after that it is still possible to go and file a complaint.”
Q: But there is a problem of sexual harassment, right? You do not deny that.
“Sexual harassment happens everywhere. I am sexually harassed in downtown Tel Aviv, people make comments and whistle at me, and in crowded places people try to touch me.”
Q: Yes, but in Tel Aviv the hood who says a word or touches you is not one you are dedicating time, effort, and danger to join for a struggle for his rights.
“Yes, there is a phenomenon and that is why we started handling it. The vast majority is verbal harassment. I know of three cases where there was an actual assault involving touch. The rest involves inappropriate comments or ‘the unduly long handshake’, which many of the activists are familiar with. The problem is primarily with the young boys in the villages, who – like young men everywhere – sometimes do not understand the boundaries. And, as I have already said, the young boys in Israel, ones who are used to seeing girls in bikinis, are no angels, either. We are working at all levels – in letting the activists know what they should do, and that they should not tolerate it, and in working with the community of the assaulter, in cases when someone harasses or assaults, and also in attempts to prevent problematic situations, such as having activists sleep in the villages.”
“If there is no whitewash, what are they afraid of?”
Hanna Beit Halachmi, a well-known activists and feminist blogger, does not find that sufficient. “There is a systematic phenomenon of explicit violations of the law, and there is a legal response, set forth in the law, and that is what should be done,” says Beit Halachmi.
Beit Halachmi, who consider herself a leftwing person and critical of the occupation (but who doesn’t take part herself in the demonstrations), recently mentioned enraged responses that she and others received after they “dared” discuss the phenomenon. These included demands and even threats to avoid the issue. “That, more than anything else, makes them suspicious. What is so frightening that makes them burst out, so?” She is not persuaded by what Tal Shapira says about the handling of the matter having started as an initiative of the activists, and claims that “they tried to silence it and I foresaw that it would blow up in their faces.”
Beit Halachmi specifically accuses a Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity activists named Avner of having called her, shouted at her, and threatened her, demanding that she stop publishing articles about the issue. Avner denies this. He says that he called Beit Halachmi, had a very short conversation with her, which was relaxed and conducted in a civilized tone, due to the fact that Attorney Roni Aloni-Sedovnik, who wrote the column that started the uproar, claimed in an email to him that she had received the specifics about a rape having occurred in Sheikh Jarrah from Beit Halahmi.
Beit Halachmi told Youpost that she does not have any information about specific cases of sexual assault, and that Aloni-Sedovnik is the one who claimed that she has the name of the alleged rape victim. All tempts to locate the source of the information about the alleged rape or assault in Sheikh Jarrah came to nothing.
That was the Youpost article. I would like to add that Beit Halachmi and sever others still argue that the joint Israeli-Palestinian protest should stop, at least for now. Blogger and +972 magazine contributor Yossi Gurvits wrote in his Hebrew blog that while he believes the joint activity should go on, he “would find it hard to invite new friends to join it.”
I disagree. Hannah Beit Halachmi’s and Roni Aloni-Sedovnik’s claim was that on group (women) was scarified in the struggle for the rights of another one. Even if you believe their accusations, wouldn’t stopping the protest be just the same, with this time the Palestinians scarified in the name of the battle for Jewish women’s rights? Demonstrations should go on, and sexual crimes should be reported, exposed and dealt with.
Finally, I wish to quote another paragraph here, from a post written by two Anarchists Against the Wall and Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity activists, which makes a point not mentioned in Berman’s piece.
“Sexual violence occurring in political activism comes not only from our Palestinian partners or even from the Israeli ones, for that matter. In many cases, the violence is imposed by the Israeli security forces, in all its guises. As activists working both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, we are repeatedly exposed to sexual harassment on the part of policemen, soldiers, and border patrol forces, and our repeated complaints about these cases are neither investigated nor handled. This fact was entirely omitted from Ms. Sedovnik’s column. Apparently, she feels that this information is less attractive, or perhaps it does not serve quite as effectively the slanderous goals of the column itself.”
note: the Sheikh Jarrah protesters in the above photo have nothing to do with the issues discussed in the post, and are not mentioned in it or linked to it in anyway (photo: activestills.org)
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 Mysay.co.il (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 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)
Flotilla dominating the protest as Palestinians and Israelis mark 43 years of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza. Plus, one clip Israel wants the world to see, and one it doesn’t
Palestinians and Israelis marked today 43 years of occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The main rally today was near road 443, the Jerusalem-bound highway which goes through the West Bank and only a few Palestinians are allowed to travel on. Protesters wore T-shirts supporting the Gaza flotilla; the army used tear gas against them.
I was in Nebi Saleh, where the army arrested Ben Gurion University professor of Chemistry Eyal Nir (pictures below), and shot tear gas at protesters. Nir was taken into an army jeep for insulting a soldier.
The Palestinians of Nebi Saleh try to regain access to a tiny pond that was taken over by settlers from the nearby Halamish settlement. As usual, the weekly demonstration started with a march toward the pond, which was stopped on the village’s main street by the Army. Then came some stone-throwing by several of the Palestinians, to which the soldiers responded with tear gas.
One thing that is worth noting is that the soldiers in Nabi Saleh fire the tear gas directly at the protesters (as can be seen here), and not in an arch, like army orders’ demand. Earlier this week, in a small demonstration against the raid on the Mavi Marmara, an American named Emily Henochowicz was hit in her eye from such a shot.
Here is a video of Emily being shot. I don’t often post such graphic images, but this week the IDF used every clip they could put their hands on to portray the soldiers who took over the Mavi Marmara as victims, so I think we need to put some things in perspective (shooting at 1:10 min. h/t: The Lede).
Later in the afternoon some 300 Israelis gathered in Sheikh Jarrah for the weekly protest. A coalition of leftwing organizations is planning an anti-occupation march tomorrow in Tel Aviv, and there are rumors that rightwing activist will try to confront it.
● This bizarre “satiric” video was sent to all foreign correspondent by no other than Government Press Office head Daniel Seaman. After a few minutes came another e-mail, claiming the video was sent “due to a misunderstanding”, and that “contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the GPO or of the State of Israel”
It’s not the first time Seaman is trying to crack these kind of jokes. As the flotilla was heading to Israel, he sent an E-mail to all foreign correspondents offering them recommendations on Gaza’s restaurants [Hebrew].
● British Rock group Klaxons canceled its planned performance in Tel Aviv, and so did Gorillaz Sound System. The gig’s organizers promised tickets holders a refund. Read the rest of this entry »
Two more Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood received this week eviction orders. According to Haaretz’s report, the families were requested to leave their houses within 45 days. No alternative residency was offered to them.
“Failure to comply [with the order] will force my client to act against you with all means available according to the law [...] in such a way as may cause distress, anxiety and large and unnecessary expense,” the notices said.
The lawyer who served the order, Anat Paz of law firm Eitan Gabay, informed the families they would be liable to a fine of NIS 350 for each day the remained in their homes beyond the eviction deadline.
Each family was also ordered to pay NIS 12,000 per year for each of the last seven years. The notices did not reveal names of the claimants to the properties
The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah are refugees who fled their homes in Jaffa and West Jerusalem in 1948. They were offered a land in Jerusalem to build their homes on by the Jordanians in exchange for agreeing to give up their refugee status (ironically, that’s what Israel always demanded the Palestinians in Arab countries do). Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and recently, the pre-1948 Jewish owners of the land in Sheikh Jarrah authorized a rightwing settlers group to have the Palestinians evacuated and the neighborhood settled with Jews.
Israeli courts repeatedly ruled in favor of the Jews claiming the land based on the pre-1948 documents – while at the same time the Palestinians were forbidden from claiming back the houses they left in 1948. Unable to have their old houses, evacuated from their current homes – Jerusalem’s municipality plans on building there 200 housing units for Jews – the Palestinians have literally nowhere to go. They don’t even hold a refugee status.
The injustice in East Jerusalem is so evident, that the struggle to stop the evacuation of the Palestinians became a new symbol for many Israelis. What has began as a very local grassroots effort by a handful of activist (many of them Anarchists) is now drawing a crowd of hundreds each week – and sometime more people and more than once a week. Here is a video from the protest two weeks ago, when some 30 demonstrators were arrested by police, and one had his arm broken.
Personally, I find the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah to be the best thing that happened to the Israeli left in years. The number of the people present there doesn’t seem that impressive, but the crowd grows each week, and it is clear that the police and the municipality will find new evacuations very hard to carry out.
More important, this struggle is becoming an inspiration to many who all but gave up on political activism – and not just in Israel. And it’s happening without any political party or a leftwing organization supporting it, and under some very radical messages. For the first time I can remember in years, the left doesn’t try to “move to the center” in order to win the support of the more conservative public, or engage in all sort of competitions in patriotism with the rightwing – ones that we obviously will never win – but rather sticks to its principles without apologizing or justifying itself.
There is no common platform in Sheikh Jarrah except for this very specific struggle. Nobody asks if you support one or two states, if you are a Zionist, Post Zionist or anti-Zionist. People just come each Friday to Jerusalem and stand for what they think is right – and so far, it works well enough. Sometimes I even get the sense that if this thing wasn’t happening here, it would have happened somewhere else. The energy feels bigger than this specific incident, as if there are finally enough Israelis who say that things have been going in the wrong direction for far too long – that a line had to be drawn, and it happened to be drawn in Sheikh Jarrah.
I took those two pics on the weekly protest last Friday, to which author Mario Vargas Llosa paid a visit.
The best way to support the protest in Sheikh Jarrah is to simply come each Friday (more details here). If you don’t live in Israel, you can make a donation, as legal expenses for the defense of arrested activists and organizers are mounting.
“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.
Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.
The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.
The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.
After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.
A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)
By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.
As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!
I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?
I don’t have a good answer.
The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.
Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.
Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah
I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.
UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.
Haaretz reports today that several Arab human rights group are planning a large rally in Haifa today to protest the arrest of activist Ameer Makhoul. A gag order is preventing Israeli media from reporting the arrest itself.
Arab MK’s are also planning to raise Makhoul’s issue in the Knesset, and if necessary, to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court so it would lift the gag order and allow Makhoul to defend himself against the Shin Beit charges.
In a different issue, today begins the trial of eight activists who took part in the protest in Sheikh Jarrah, the Jerusalem neighborhood being colonized by extreme rightwing settlers (with the support of Jerusalem’s mayor). The court has ruled in the past that most of the actions carried out by the Jerusalem police against the protesters were illegal, yet the effort to prosecute and deter the demonstrators continues.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a response to a post on Jewlicious.com which dealt with the renovations of the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem’s old city. This was a unilateral move by Israel, which brought some protest from the Palestinian side, and I’ve used this opportunity to criticize Israeli policies in the occupied parts of the city.
Last week, the author of the original post, which uses the nick “TheMiddle”, posted his reply. It’s worth reading, also because TM sums up pretty well the “pragmatic” Israeli view of city and its future: a unified capitol now, which will probably be divided later.
TM objects to expelling Palestinians from their houses (on the condition that they settled there before 1967), but supports Israel’s actions in the Old City and on the nearby neighborhood of Silwan. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, I conclude that he also supports the construction of new neighborhoods for Jews on the eastern (occupied) parts of the city. I gather this from article 9 in his post, where he states that building houses for Jews on purchased land is OK.
I’d like to use this post to argue that Jerusalem is not a unified city, that its Arab residents are discriminated both de-facto and de-jure, that Israel is doing almost everything in its power to colonize the city and to push Palestinians out of it, and that from a legal perspective, there is not such a big difference between building in the Old City of Jerusalem to having Jews enter houses in Sheikh Jerrah (which TM opposes). The international community is right in not recognizing Israeli control over the so-called unified city.
If one wants to understand the nature of Israeli occupation, its pseudo-legal system and all its absurdities, all you have to do is look closely at what’s going on in Jerusalem.
The Israeli government decided to annex the eastern parts of the Jerusalem two weeks after the Six Days war, on June 26 1967. Seven years ago, Haaretz published some parts of this cabinet meeting’s protocol. The ministers took great effort to portray this as an administrative order, and to avoid public attention as much as they could. They even contacted the Israeli Censor involved for this purpose.
After the war, the government also formed a secret administrative unit called Igum who was in charge of purchasing land from Arab citizens of Jerusalem and turning it over to Jews. This unit was also involved in “encouraging” Arabs to leave the city. Israel also took immediate unilateral moves to evacuate the Jewish part of the Old City from its Arab residents. Luckily, an offer by IDF chief Rabbi to blow up the mosques on Temple Mountain was rejected.
There are two very important issues that must be understood and considered when discussing Jerusalem:
1. Israel annexed in East Jerusalem an area more than 10 times bigger than the original Jordanian city – 71,000 dunams (71 sq. km.) as opposed to 6,000 dunams of Jordanian Jerusalem (see map above). This area includes 28 Palestinian towns and villages which were never part of historic Jerusalem. Since than, more than one third of the annexed land was confiscated by the state and used for the construction of Jewish neighborhoods. They house now around 250,000 Jews. Israel also confiscated land to build its government offices in the east side of town, including in the controversial Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood.
2. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the towns and villages surrounding it, it gave Palestinians living there a status of “residents” and not citizens. This is a major point. Residents cannot vote in the general elections, they are not issued Israeli Passports; they cannot buy apartments or houses on state land (which makes most of the land in Israel and almost all the land in Jerusalem). If they leave Jerusalem for more than 7 years they lose their residency permit, and are left without any civil status; and because of the new citizenship order, they cannot live in East Jerusalem with partners who are not residents as well. If a Jerusalem Palestinian marries a woman from nearby Ramallah or Bethlehem, he can’t bring his wife to live at his home. Read the rest of this entry »