Sheikh Jarrah: Time to act
Louis Frankenthaler moved to Israel in 1995 and lives, with his family, in West Jerusalem. He has an MA in Jewish Education, is a doctoral student and works for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. His political writings have appeared in Zeek, Global Dialogue, the Electronic Intifada and in Ha’aretz. The opinions reflected in his essays are his own.
Louis translated the activists’ statement, which was originally published in Hebrew on the Sheikh Jarrah blog, his commentary follows.
From the Sheikh Jarrah activists
Today is a difficult day for all of us, for the thousands who have stood over the months in protest in Sheikh Jarrah and to the tens of thousands who support this grave struggle, a struggle for the future of the society in which we live.
Today, adding to the physical police barriers in Sheikh Jarrah [the Jerusalem Magistrate/”Shalom” Court] Judge Ziskind added, in her decision, an additional barrier. Through its decision the Court is attempting to prevent core [Sheikh Jarrah] activists from taking part in any public event connected to Sheikh Jarrah for five months and even to issue a sweeping order preventing the activists from even appearing in the neighborhood during this period. With this the Court, in no uncertain terms, stands with the Jerusalem Police and has joined its efforts to repress and crush the struggle. We know now, like in the past, such repression will only strengthen us as we stand in resistance to injustice.
In the face of this newest challenge we will present the only response we have: solidarity. Solidarity with our Palestinian partners against the attempts purge the neighborhood of its Palestinian residents in favor of Jewish settlers; solidarity with our comrades in detention and against the attempts to repress their protests; solidarity with our fellow citizens/civilians who want only to live in a democratic society in which politically based law enforcement is inconceivable. All must be equal before the law. The law, when applied discriminatory, challenges is very legality [constitutionality].
In the name of solidarity we call on everyone to come to Sheikh Jarrah next Friday. Standing together we will deliver a loud and clear message to the Magistrate’s Court and to the settler’s police: You cannot kill popular resistance
This is the moment that demands of all of us to join the struggle, to call on our friends to join us as we stand shoulder to shoulder against the corruption of a law enforcement system infected by the Occupation.
Friday — 4pm/16:00 Sheikh Jarrah: We call on YOU to join us. More details to follow.
The Sheikh Jarrah Activists
There is little more that one can add to the morally just call from the Sheikh Jarrah activists. Over the past month or two I, normally cynical about demonstrations, have decided to frequent the neighborhood, to come out from behind my computer screen activism, my writing and my role as a full time human rights worker, to protest and to start visiting with the people beyond Friday afternoons.
The weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah are exciting and inspiring examples of a pure representation of democratic and human rights based activism. I have come by myself and witnessed (and was almost touched by) police brutality. I have come with my children (7 and 10) and faced their tough questions: “Why we are here? What is going on? Why are there so many police here and why do they have different uniforms on?” The simple answer I give them children reflects the relative simplicity of the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah. It is an answer that draws together a relatively large variety of people, mostly Israelis, some of them professors, authors, politicians but most of them regular people from regular homes in regular neighborhoods. The answer to my kids’ questions: we are here because what Israel is doing to the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah is wrong. Israel is hurting them and it is not fair. As for the police, to my children I am forced to answer them with a hint of sadness that says “normally we expect the police to protect us. If someone hurts you, you should call the police and they will protect you but today, they are helping the State do something bad.”
Of course we know, like in the activists’ statement above, that the police, the Courts, the army, politicians and so many others have been drafted, co-opted, with democracy sequestered, to serve the structural and physical violence of the Occupation. Sheikh Jarrah is one small pocket of this system but it is also a pocket of resistance, sometimes subtle and sometimes more effervescent but always an expression of an enduring struggle to change the way that the hegemonic forces of injustice operate. For too long the Israeli take over of East Jerusalem, the building of settlements in the middle of Palestinian communal life has continued with Israeli public acquiescence and silence. The activists have been left to defend democracy by themselves. The human rights and peace NGOs forced to struggle against an on-going cynical effort by official Israel to delegitimize and to demonize them. All of us continue to be held hostage by the far right who prefer Sarajevo of the 1990s or Belfast of the 70’s and 80’s over a just and democratic city at peace. These same people have organized themselves as self anointed Monitors and self defined ‘New Zionists’ who prefer to tell us what to think and to sue those who deviate from their demands. They, like settler activists, have colonized any democratic life course that remains in Israel and subjugated it to the Occupation.
We live in a society which has reached a dangerous level of moral and political bankruptcy. Israel’s leadership, in a disturbing reincarnation of manifest destiny, defends settlements and maintains its perceived metaphysical right to colonize at will. We are left with little option but to come out of our homes and from behind our computer screens and drum up a vocal and musical crescendo that the State will no longer be able to ignore. Israel continues to descend dangerously into de-democracy led by an ultra right wing Government in which Bibi Netanyahu is seen as a leftist. There is little optimism left except for in those pockets of resistance that wave the flag of democracy and human rights instead of the flags of nationalism and violence. It is a flag embodied by the pirate flag flown weekly at the demonstrations, which perhaps symbolizes the way that Israel sees democratic activism as criminal and illegitimate. This is the brilliance of Sheikh Jarrah and the reason why activists will continue to be arrested and to be released under counter democratic conditions. It is one (not the only) of the reasons why the Palestinian victims of settlement in East Jerusalem will be vindicated.
Sheikh Jarrah is not a battleground. It is the black board upon which it is possible to re-write the course of IsraelPalestine politics. In Sheikh Jarrah a new paradigm is being realized. It is the paradigm of level headed, patient and just struggle by people who have moved beyond co-existence to mutually-assured-existence. It is a paradigmatic struggle that will infiltrate and subvert the de-democratic forces of Occupation and denial of basic human and civil rights to too many people for far too long. It is a struggle for a ‘Just Jerusalem’ but not just that.
Post Script on the Free Gaza Flotilla
Yesterday (May 31, 2010), Israeli naval commandos attacked the peace flotilla as it sailed to Gaza to break the blockade. Activists were killed. It is an act beyond our collective and common human understanding of basic decency and dignity. The Israeli siege on Gaza is illegal collective punishment. Never mind the Hamas rulers – who are far from embodying any human rights ideals – the civilian population of Gaza must have free access to food, medicine, building supplies and mostly to normal life. Israel prevents this. The official Israeli narrative on the events of today and on its relationship with Gaza attempts to be the last word. It is not because we will continue to speak and act up.