Sheikh Jarrah: Tenacity, achievement and recognition
From the onset, in addition to protesting the injustice of the evictions, the activists at Sheikh Jarrah sought to leverage the demonstrations into direct action: Protecting the evicted Palestinian families, camped on the street outside their homes, from settlers using Friday afternoon “prayer meetings” as a launch point for attacks. The presence of Israelis at the family tents during this crucial time slot deterred some of the attacks and, in a few cases, even embarrassed the police into doing its job.
The Jerusalem police was having none of it. At some point in the fall of 2009 a decision was made: The protests would be suppressed. Over one hundred arrests ensued over the following months. The highhandedness of the police backfired. It brought media attention and, with it, local and international support. The courts also consistently sided with the activists and police disrespect for the rule of law became increasingly unsustainable. In February, commanders ceased dispersing the Friday protests.
Police still blocked the activists — now organized as a movement called “Just Jerusalem” — from actually standing with the families, corralling them in a playground a few hundred yards away. Instead of declaring victory and moving on, the youngsters redoubled their efforts to reach the tents. Arrests resumed. One activist was taken from the Friday night family dinner table. In mid April, a group of intellectuals led by author David Grossman witnessed a police assault and spoke out. More Israelis joined the protests.On Friday (April 23 2010) the police broke. At 4:00pm most of the demonstrators gathered in the playground, a few dozen activists appeared out of nowhere outside the Hanoun family home. The new local commander (the top brass had apparently had enough of his predecessor) approached the group and ordered them to disperse. Their response: This is a legal vigil and we’re not moving. The police force stood down. Later, as the group joined the main body, Sara Beninnga, the indefatigable cheer leader of the protests, announced on her megaphone that the action would be repeated every week and replicated at other Jerusalem hot spots. On Sunday, as settler extremists marched through Silwan, the Sheikh Jarrah activists were there to lead the counter-demonstration.
Just Jerusalem’s has become a symbol for Israel’s anti-Occupation activists. Against all odds, lacking resources and organizational backing, the movement demonstrated the power of conviction and tenacity. Writing in this Saturday’s edition of the Financial Times, Tobias Buck, allowed recognition of this achievement to seep through his skepticism:
The regular demonstrations have broadened into protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in general. Some Israelis also come to register their disapproval of police action against the gatherings, adding freedom of speech to the other grievances.
As a result, the protesters’ ranks are now studded with some of Israel’s most prominent intellectuals and writers.
The signatures of many of these intellectuals, including Israel Prize laureates Avishai Margalit and Zeev Sternhell, are among the ninety-nine at the bottom of an open letter taking Elie Wiesel to task for his sheer chutzpah in presuming to speak for those who actually live Jerusalem in his controversial full-page Washington Post ad, calling for a halt to US diplomatic action on the city (full letter here and at bottom of post; Haaretz report here.)
For more than a generation now the earthly city we call home has been crumbling under the weight of its own idealization. Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet it is our commitment that makes your homecoming possible. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.