This is what the Only Democracy in the Middle East Looks Like
December 13, 2009 § 5 Comments
This Friday, International Human Rights Day was marked for the first time in Israel. In Tel-Aviv, some 5000 people marched in a general human-rights march. It was a quiet event that was covered very favorably and widely by the press. What wasn’t being covered by the press? The second March to Sheikh Jarrah, which ended up with 24 arrests and one demonstrator in the hospital.
Putting Sheik Jarrah in Context
In 1875- Ottoman times- the Committee of the Sephardic Ethnic Group bought these lands. There was a small Jewish community living there until they gradually started fleeing, during the violence, in the area, during the 1920’s and 30’s and up until 1948. From 1948 to 1967, the land was under Jordanian control. At that time, 28 Palestinian refugee families were given lodging on this land by the Jordanian government, under the condition that they give up their UNRWA benefits and pay symbolic rent, for three years, by which time the houses will be passed under their names. The last part never happened.
In 1972 the Committee of the Sephardic Ethnic Group and the Committee of Israel’s Kneset made sure to register their ownership over the land in Israel’s Land Administration, with documents from the 19th century. In 1982, the committees sued the residents for rent. The residents wouldn’t accept the committees’ ownership and refused to pay rent.
In 1997, after years of law suits and resident evacuations, the residents began suing for ownership of the houses. It has been acknowledged by the court, in 2006, that there are problems with the committees’ registration, but the registration hasn’t been canceled.
At this point the houses are owned by a settler organization by the name of “Shimon Estate International”, who’s intent is to destroy the houses in the Palestinian neighborhood, and rebuild the land with Jewish institutions, yeshivas and homes. In order to achieve this goal, border police is brought in, doors get kicked in, windows get smashed, the Palestinian residents are violently evicted and within an hour Jewish settlers come in, throw the Palestinians’ property into the yard and stick a flag on the roof of the house. This is what colonization looks like. This is what ethnic cleansing looks like.
Testimony of a March
We were the two cars that came straight from the weekly Bil’in demonstration. We were late for the march, so we parked next to the colonized house in Sheikh Jarrah, where police and border police were already stationed in huge amounts, and walked towards the marchers, to meet them half way and walk back. We were around 150 and there were at least 3 police cars “securing” the march (this also means the march is legal). As we walked on the sidewalks of the main roads of Jerusalem, we were jeered at, cursed and even watered on from windows:
When we reached the neighborhood we entered the yard of the al-Kurd family home and filled it. The Palestinian kids were sitting on the fence of the house, cheering with us and some came in with us. Between 7-13 border police and regular police were standing on the porch and the settlers were peeking at us from the doorway. Some of the demonstrated chose to speak to the soldiers, while the rest chanted “stop the expulsions”, “stop the occupation” and other classics. I stood on the porch, where I was face to face with the soldiers. Personally I have nothing to say to them.
One of the demonstrators pulled down a string of Israeli flags, and started towards the gate of the yard, where a settler with a motorcycle helmet appeared and grabbed the flags from her hand. He went and stood on a chair behind the soldiers and started waving the flags and yelling at us. We decided to ignore him and continued chanting. A representative of the neighborhood Palestinians thanked us all for coming and we continued the chanting.
I happened to be next to Rabbi Ascherman’s (Rabbis or Human Rights) assistant, at the time, and heard a conversation between her and one of the residents, who weren’t evicted, yet. He told her he had overheard the police talking and that they are planning to evacuate another house, within the next two days. He pleaded to her:
You have to do something, next time, it’s me, or my neighbors!
This is what a desperate man looks like.
At this point, another demonstrator pulled the remaining string of flags off the wall. Within less than a second the border police and police started herding us out, hitting and grabbing and pushing and pulling. People were falling and they continued trampling us. In the case of one woman, who just couldn’t get up, we spread our arms and legs around her, in an attempt to stop the police from trampling on, until someone managed to pick her up. We finally managed to get outside, when I noticed one of the demonstrators, running to one of the police cars and yelling:
Don’t let them out!
The police had already made their first arrest and this person was in their vehicle. We all ran to the car and blocked the border police from all sides. One of the children was standing right in front of me, and as the border patrol man started pushing us back I grabbed him to me and yelled for the soldier to calm down. I could see their second detainee, a friend, his eyes red and his head hanging down. The put him in the car, shut the doors and the car started moving, with people clinging to its hood. It didn’t get far and the officers came back out and started beating the protesters on the car. I saw one protester loose his glasses, while a border patrol man shook him and shoved him violently, and managed to find the remains of them, for him, in the midst of all this mess. They move the car back into the street and there was a short ease from the police, when one of them yelled that this was an illegal gathering. That’s when the demonstration against the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah turned into the demonstration of our right to demonstrate.
Another friend started yelling into the megaphone that he’s just come back from Bil’in, and he couldn’t believe that he’d have so much to fear, demonstrating inside Israel. He was seized by three police men, who bent him every which way and carried him to the al-Kurd family home, which from an illegal outpost has now turned into police head quarters. Scared for my friends safety, I climbed the house fence to try to see what’s happening. An officer yelled at me to get off the fence, which I did. I followed him and demanded he tell me why my friend is in the house and got no answer. I continued following him, and he went to the squad car, where my other friend, who was beaten before was still sitting. My friend was begging for water, through the glass, so I took a bottle of water out of my bag and tried to get the officer’s attention. Nothing. He just wouldn’t respond to me. The demonstrator next to me, just happened to be the activists’ lawyer, so he took the bottle from me, but didn’t make it on time, and the car sped away with three detainees.
At this point all hell broke loose and the border police and police forces started violently herding us up the street. One by one people were tackled and arrested. Mostly people who dared assert their freedom. Anyone who spoke directly to the police about their violence and injustice, as they were beating us. The brutality of their language was astonishing:
The one with the megaphone! Fold her for me! [An officer and a gentleman.]
As a bunch of officers were walking towards us, I was walking backwards and one of the veteran activists happened to be by my side. He didn’t say a word, just crossed his hands over his chest and looked them straight in the eyes. All of a sudden, another officer appeared from the sea of border patrol and pointed at him:
Him! I want him! Bring him to me!
My friend was grabbed and within seconds disappeared inside a jumble of officers. I witnessed 3 more arrests. No one lay a hand on these rabid servants of the state. This is what law and order looks like.
About 50 of us stayed at the outskirts of the neighborhood. Legal and media phone calls were being made, trying to see if our friends were under arrest or just detained and who exactly was arrested. As night fell, more and more settler families passed by. Leisurely strolling in their fur coats and hats, while police lights rotate red and blue in the background. I tried to talk to an officer to let me through, to get my car, but he claimed the area is now closed, as 2 bearded men passed right by us. This is what simple logic looks like.
When the last jail van with our friends inside passed by, we all arranged in our cars and each one left back home (some stayed the night in Sheikh Jarrah). News started coming in, of our friends. Who was taken where? And what their charges were. One of our friends was admitted to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder.
The Media and the March
In the car, I heard the 6 o’clock news:
Leftists activists rioted in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, six police officers were lightly injured and treated on sight.
The mainstream media didn’t bother coming to this march. After all, who cares about a few “Arabs” (never Palestinian), being kicked out of their homes, right? I was astonished to see how we do all the dirty work for them. As we were waiting on the outskirts of the neighborhood, one of our friends made calls to all the major networks, and they came by cab and took the tapes we had to offer them.
Interestingly enough, not one of the articles mentioned our wounded, but the six lightly wounded soldiers are always in the sub-header. All articles, but one state that a “confrontation developed”, as if this was a natural occurrence. Many of the articles give the police’s statement, that we tried to enter the house, which is a complete lie, and never even give one demonstrator’s eye witness account. In none of the articles is true context given about Sheikh Jarrah and why we were even there, in the first place. In most cases the background that is given is deceiving:
People of the left and Arab demonstrator came to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem to demonstrate in front of houses where Jews live. [Yediot Acharonot]
The protesters on Friday marched from the city center to Sheikh Jarrah, where police said they tried to enter a home that is partly occupied by Jews before being stopped. [Ha’aretz]
Reading Yediot, you may possibly think that leftists and “Arabs” (who aren’t Palestinians because there’s no such thing) have it in for Jews. Reading Ha’aretz doesn’t help much in understanding the situation, because it’s confusing that the house is “partly‘ occupied by Jews. What doesn’t that even mean?
Without actually being there, without knowing the context, with only hearsay to report with, our press marginalizes us, demonizes us and confuses the public, leaving one falsity as fact: The police is there to keep the peace. This is what our watch dogs look like.
Testimony of a Courthouse Protest
The following evening, over 50 of us got down to the court in Jerusalem, to express support for our fellow demonstrators. The first thing to strike me as odd was the fact that they only let family members in. The court of law is to be open to the public. But this was to be only the first in some strange twists and turns. The presiding judge wasn’t very interested in getting the show on the road, and although present, just wouldn’t begin the hearing. The lawyers filed a paper, demanding that he begin, as detainees have a right to be heard by a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. The judge just didn’t care.
Outside, we chanted as loud as possible, people brought extra coats and a huge pot of soup. Every once in a while news from the lawyers came out. The internationals were to be deported (which is completely illegal), some of the detainees were to be held in custody until due process (which could take months), they won’t be allowed into Jerusalem (which is where some of them live). All kinds of creative ideas were brought up by the judge and prosecution. This is what justice looks like.
Some time around midnight, we were told the first six are to be released. It would take about an hour of chanting and we were slowly joined by a group of counter-protestors, who jeered, cursed, pulled out a switch blade and threatened some of the women with rape, just for laughs and bravado. The police saw it fitting to get a little aggressive, when we shook one of the automatic roadblocks (which we would later cross anyway, as our people started coming out). Joined by the first six, we continued chanting for another 3 hours ( fortunately, the jolly counter protest, yelling “death to the Arabs” was gone after about two hours). We stood outside the courthouse for a total of 8 and a half hours, until all our friends were in our arms. This is what democracy looks like.