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.


Anonymous said...

No doubt we can trust the Palestinians a hundred per cent that they will be both democratic and secular.

Y. Ben-David said...

My question to you is based on your answer to mean in the previous thread....what do you expect to come from these demonstrations? Political decisions are main from "the mainstream" of the political spectrum, which is still Zionist, not from the post- or anti-Zionist/anarchist Left. It was mainstream "bitchonistim" like Rabin, Barak and Sharon who did the most for the Palestinians (even if it wasn't enough in your eyes). It was Sharon who twice destroyed Jewish yishuvim and expelled their inhabitants (Yamit and Gush Katif), not Uri Avnery and MERETZ.

Thus, I am pleased that there weren't any Israeli flags (apparently because they were offensive to the Arabs who participated). This will further marginalize this protest movement in the eyes of the large majority of Jewish Israelis.

Regarding your question regarding "right-wing demonstrations"...I have participated in many, starting with the Olso Agreements. I, like you, don't enjoy attending them.
I think you have to distinguish between demonstrations of the "Left-wing Establishment", of which the 1982 Sabra-Shatilla one was probably the largest ever, adding to this the annual Rabin-day memorials. The latter have taken on the attributes of being more an annual tribal/clan gathering, rather than a serious political protest.
The demonstrations like those at Sheikh Jarrah seem to be people who are anti-Establishment and who don't identify with the old MAPAI-MAPAM aristocracy, of which Labor and MERETZ are vestiges.
Right-wing demonstrations, on the contrary, are made of people who until recently, at least, identify strongly with the Zionist ethos of the country. Good citizens, patriotic, well-behaved, who at first felt very uncomfortable protesting against war heroes like Rabin and Sharon. However, the big terrorist attacks after Oslo brought out a lot of anger. The peak was reached with the very successful "Zo Artzenu" demonstrations in 1994-1995 which were a true grass-roots movement, something practically unheard of before and since. This was the first time people of this pro-Zionist camp saw the massive police violence the Arabs and Far Left had seen in the past and it embittered many. However, Zo Artzenu's leader, Moshe Feiglin, decided to abandon grass-roots work and to go into politics (the Likud) where he has essentially become irrelevant, and no one took his place. I do feel the demonstrations of the time, some of which had 100,000-150,000 protestors, did force the government to be cautious in its relations with the Judea/Samaria settlers. Neither Rabin, Peres or Barak dismantled any settlements.

When Sharon decided to destroy Gush Katif, the lack of a grass-roots movement proved fatal. The YESHA Council announced they would lead the "protests" using the slogan "we will triumph with love" when secretly they made a deal with Sharon to make sure there would be no opposition to the destruction of the settlements, and there wasn't any. There were a couple of large demonstrations which were more like Benei Akiva summer-camp love-ins. No protest songs were allowed nor harsh speeches.
I, and many others, at that point said I will not attend any more demonstrations.
There is a generation gap here on this side as well. Because of the betrayal of the protest movement by the YESHA council and religious leadership, many young people (and some not so young) are very embittered and have become anti-establishment. Many say they don't want to serve in the IDF, although most continue to do so, but you have heard about the protests carried out when IDF soldiers are required to carry out police actions against Jews in Judea/Samaria.

Jerry Haber said...

Y Ben David, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Some brief remarks.

I don't think protests like the one last night will have much political effect. There will be a ripple effect onto the Zionist left (more have joined up in coalition iwth the extreme left because a) there is no peace process, and b) Meretz is in the opposition, and c) the feeling on all sides that the two-state solution is moribund.

But you should read Gideon Levy, if you haven't already.

He makes an argument that I think you would appreciate. The talkbacks say, "Whaddaya mean, I am for peace with the Palestinians; I am just not on the far left." But I don't know anybody in Israel who wouldn't want peace, including folks like Ginsberg and Dov Lior -- the question is what are the terms.

Back to the question of influence. What the folks were saying last night was not how effective can we make this struggle (of course, they are interested in that.) But rather, how can you stand by and watch this injustice going on. I suppose it is rather similar to people who say, How can you stand by and watch Eretz Yisrael slip from our control? That in itself is a value, regardless of how many people you can convince of it. So what if the Right hasn't convinced most of the center of the importance of the value. They don't really need to because at the end of the day, they can build a coalition with the security hawks to keep much of Eretz Yisrael. The parts they lose will hurt, but I don't think, frankly, they suffer as much as the pro-Palestinian left, because, after all, the real losers are the Palestinians, not the settlers removed from Gaza.

As for their not being Israeli flags, I think even the Zionist left would understand why a protest in East Jerusalem should not have Israeli flags. If the protest were in Tel Aviv, that would be different.

One final point which just struck me. Nobody in the world is surprised by the number of Great Israel folks or settlers, because nationalism and ultra-nationalism is quite usual. But every Jew, and especially every Israeli Jew, who joins forces with Palestinians and human rights groups is news, because it is a man bites dog story. So in a way, Gerald Steinberg is right to think that these groups, despite their numbers, can do a lot of damage to israel. It's true that settlers can have Christian evangelicals support them, but aside from the money (which is considerable) the evangelicals don't have much clout in the court of public opinion. I know your views that Israel is pretty safe in that court, except in Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Asia.

But look at the latest Gallup poll -- the one that you mentioned on another blog, I think -- which gives Israel a large favorable rating. That rating declines with age; the younger groups are not as supportive as the middle, which is not as supportive as the oldest folks. How much support will Israel have in the generations to come. In fact, Egypt does better than Israel in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the way you want to divide the Israeli Left, but I'm a young-ish more-or-less Meretz supporter and I was at the rally yesterday, and there were plenty like me, as far as I could tell. There was an Arab speaker who spoke in favor of a one-state solution, and the applause was quite mild (though he wasn't booed either - hardly the occasion for that). Dov Khenin (the guy from the same party as all those waving the red flags) indeed gave a rousing speech and spoke quite clearly that we desire 2 states, and received the applause of the whole audience (as far as I can tell).

Anyway, all this left-vs-left, at this stage of the game I don't really see the point.

every Israeli Jew, who joins forces with Palestinians and human rights groups is news [...] despite their numbers, can do a lot of damage to israel

How are protesters damaging Israel? This is unclear. How one can see Jewish presence at the tomb of Simon the Righteous as a vital national interest is quite beyond me.


Jerry Haber said...

I wrote: So in a way, Gerald Steinberg is right to think that these groups, despite their numbers, can do a lot of damage to israel.

I should have put "damage" in quotes. The idea is that Israel's reputation and prestige will suffer.

Y. Ben-David said...


It is interesting how "youngish" people like yourself know so little about history. How is this? Because in the not so distant past, the "one state solution" was a euphemism, just like the term "the final solution" was in Nazi Europe...i.e. for the Arabs it meant the same as "throwing the Jews into sea".
You see, 100 years ago 20% of the Middle East was Christian, (you know, the Middle East of the "tolerant Islam" Obama talked about in his Cairo speech). Today it is 2%. Christians are being driven out of Iraq today at gunpoint. So what do you think would be the fate of Jews in a mixed Arab-Jewish state in Eretz Israel? The best we could hope for is a situation like Lebanon with permenently hostile sectarian groups being continually at each others throats, and Jewish success in business and the economy a permanent source of jealousy to the Arab/Muslims (Uri Avnery pointed this out to Ilan Pappe). That's what a "one-state solution" means to me. Do you seriously believe it is an option? Any Jew who seriously pushes such a policy is placing him or herself outside the political discourse of Israel.

Peter H said...

Y. Ben David,

How about this for discrimination?: a Palestinian Christian who was forced out of Jaffa, Haifa or any other city/town/village in what's now Israel in 1947-48 has no right to return to their home, to their original cities, or to become an Israeli citizen. Meanwhile, as s a Jew in New York who has never faced an ounce of discrimination, I am automatically entitled to become an Israeli citizen and live anywhere I want in Israel based on the fact that my ancestors (may have) lived there a couple of thousand years ago. To paraphrase a prominent Middle Eastern Christian, maybe you, as an arch-Zionist, should take the beam out of your own eye before you yap on about the plight of Christians under Arabs & Muslims.

And as I've said before, you also favor a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine - just one where all the political power is held by Jews and Palestinians in "Judea and Samaria" have no rights.