David Grossman at Sheikh Jarrah: “We cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us”
On Friday (April 9 2010) Israeli author David Grossman made an impromptu speech [video here] at the protest against the continued evictions of Palestinians families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and their replacement with fundamentalist settlers.
I think that we are all beginning to grasp — even those who maybe don’t really want to — how 43 years ago, by turning a blind eye, by actively or passively cooperating, we actually cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us, consuming every good part within us, making the country we live in a place that is not good to live in. Not good not only if you are an Arab citizen of Israel, and certainly if you are a Palestinian resident of the Territories — not good also for every Jewish Israeli person who wants to live here, who cherishes some hope to be in a place where humans are respected as humans, where your rights are treated as a given, where humanity, morality, and civil rights are not dirty words, not something from the bleeding-heart Left. No. These are the bread and water, the butter and milk of our lives, the stuff from which we will make our lives, and really make them lives worth living here.
Grossman spoke after police suppressed an attempt, ahead of the protest, by a group of veteran peace activists, accompanied by the young leadership of the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement, to see first-hand the homes of families already evicted and of those under immediate threat. Bernard Avishai, who was with the group, reports:
Ever since the Friday demonstrations began back in January, the police had cordoned off the homes of the displaced families after about 2 PM, so that demonstrators were unable to show solidarity directly to the people evicted, or express their disgust with the Jewish settlers. In response — a kind of outflanking operation — the group invited about 30 of us, including the author David Grossman, former speaker Avrum Burg, NIF President Naomi Chazan, Israel Prize winner Zeev Sternhell, to gather at the homes of the families at 1:30 PM, where we conducted a kind of impromptu seminar for a couple of hours (not a hard thing for writers and professors, as things turned out).
At around 3:30 PM, we all suddenly emerged onto the street with our signs, and stood across from the homes that were confiscated, kitty-corner to the others that are under threat. When the police commanders realized that we were actually behind their lines, they quickly organized and sent a phalanx of heavily armed officers to form a line behind us, and began pushing us out toward the main demonstration in a park across the street.
WE HAD ALL agreed in advance that we would not resist, or do anything to challenge police authority. As we were being pushed, we walked very slowly but steadily toward the demonstrating crowd that was gathered in the usual place. Now and then we would scold the police for pushing too aggressively. Most of the young officers seemed a little abashed to be pushing well-known sixty-somethings around, but that was the point.
Then something unexpected and chilling happened. The commander of the police spotted Assaf and recognized him as the group’s organizer. He instructed several officers to seize him and put him under arrest. Immediately, Avner, Amos, and another leader sat down, challenging the police to arrest them, too, which is exactly what the police did. The instinctive way the three sat down in solidarity, unwilling to allow Assaf to be arrested alone, touched those of us who were walking beside them in ways that are hard to explain. It reminded me of a sentence in Albert Camus’ The Plague, that there is no heroism in fighting something like the plague, just common decency.