Saturday, March 6, 2010
Sheikh Jarrah and the Birth of a Coalition
Around five thousand demonstrators protested the eviction of Arab families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and the settlement there of rightwing Jewish extremists. It was the largest Sheikh Jarrah protest and the largest joint Israeli-Palestinian protest so far. The protest was composed of an interesting mix – Jewish leftwing activists, mostly (but not entirely) young; the Zionist left Meretz-Peace Now crowd, mostly (and entirely) old; Israeli Palestinian activists, and representatives of the evicted families. There were Israeli singers and a Palestinian hip-hop group from Shuafat. Many of the speeches were given in Arabic, both Jerusalem colloquial and standard, and judging from the crowd, more of the younger Israeli Jewish activists understood the speeches than the older generation. The “drummers” and the clowns were there in full force – these are activists who play the drum and dress up as clowns in an attempt both to lighten up the protest, and to drive home the point of non-violent protest. I also saw some familiar faces and fellow bloggers, including Rabbi Brian Walt (Didi Remez was also there, but I didn’t catch up with him.) The speeches represented the spectrum of the new coalition – from an Israeli Palestinian actor-activist who protested the presence of an Israeli flag with the word “peace” on it, saying that there will not be peace until there is one democratic secular state, to the older generation of Peace Now activists like Daphna Golan and Mossi Raz, the latter speaking of two states. Dov Khenin of Had ash gave a rousing speech, and there were a bunch of red flags. But in my opinion, the highlight of the night was a speech delivered by young Israeli activist, Sarah Benninga, who spoke about the New Left and the New Right. As soon as I get my hands on that, I will try to post some of it. At the end of the demonstration, three hundred activists were allowed to walk to the site of the Palestinian homes. Initially, the police had refused the protesters a permit to demonstrate near the houses, citing the usual reasons given for suppressing democratic protest in Israel (sensitive territory, friction between settlers and activists, difficulty of protecting the protesters, etc.) The court threw out all of the reasons but nevertheless did not allow the big demonstration to be held next to the houses. That was the compromise. Haaretz published in its Friday Hebrew edition the fascinating story about how the activists beat the police in court. I will translate that in a separate post.