By: David Shulman
10 December 2009
As always in violence, it's impossible to put together a coherent story. You lose track of what happened first, what came next, who got hurt when; the moments stretch out endlessly, run together, overlap, images are superimposed or interwoven; the physical pain gets buried somewhere safe, more or less, inside the surreal limbo of your memory, which seems oddly to correspond to the external limbo of the action as you saw it unfold. So this time I won't try to tell the story. Instead, a few vignettes:
* A grey, cold Friday afternoon. Winter. Foretaste of rain. The weekly march to Sheikh Jarrah, to the Palestinian houses that have been invaded by Israeli settlers. As usual, we march to the drums, shouting our slogans. Lo tignov ve-lo tirzach ts'u miyad mi-sheikh jarrah, 'Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not murder, Get out now from Sheikh Jarrah.' Some in English: 'Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a Fascist state.' I think the so-called Anarchists came up with this one. Do I agree with it? Not really. But this is hardly the moment to fuss over the niceties. How about a 'proto-Fascist' state? Doesn't fit the meter. Anyway, it's not quite true. Inside the Green Line, but not counting East Jerusalem, Israel is a semi-functional democracy. On the other side of it, in Palestine, there's another Jewish state, lawless, ruthless, yes, Fascist. The trouble is that the latter state has largely taken over the former.
* We stand in the courtyard of the stolen house, with the Palestinian owners beside us. There are between a hundred and a hundred and fifty of us, perhaps double what we had last week. Many soldiers and border police, also more than last week. Protest is gaining ground. The atmosphere is volatile, riddled with rage. Drums beating louder and louder. Children from the dispossessed families are tying small plastic Palestinian flags on a cord stretched opposite the string of plastic Israeli flags the settlers have draped over the door and window. The courtyard is littered, still, with the detritus that was once a family's life: toys, kitchen appliances, an old couch, a wobbly table; all have been rained on this week, some have sunk into the mud. There's probably something a little irritating to the soldiers and the settlers, I think and hope, in the chants we are hurling at them. 'From Sheikh Jarrah to Bil'in/ Freedom now for Filastin.' I look around me: mostly young people, gentle but tough—many students, some I know from my classes, musicians, painters, poets, meditators, activists, young parents with babies folded in slings on their breasts—all of them totally non-violent, of course; and the demonstration is perfectly legal, no question about that, the police themselves issued the permit.
* Somehow it begins. Someone gave the order. I don't know who. Later someone says it may have been connected to the flags. It's possible—I didn't see it—that one of our demonstrators reached the window of the stolen house and tore down the plastic Israeli flag. Maybe that triggered it. But I think they were anyway just itching to tear into this crowd. So when the moment comes, it starts somewhere at the edge of the family's tent set up in what's left of their own front yard and then swirls rapidly in widening arcs and circles, a vortex drawing each of us in. I am washed by a human wave out of the courtyard and into the street. They have grabbed one of our people and they are pushing him up against the command car and we surround them, trying to release our captive from their grip.
* Waves of green uniforms followed by waves of blue—police reinforcements have arrived. Many screams. The border police, as usual, are the most aggressive. Punching, fighting their way forward through the crowd, seizing victims at random, pushing them to the ground, pinning their arms behind them, carrying them off. Drumming goes on, builds toward a climax, ebbs, rises again. We stand our ground. We lock arms in a circle to keep them from forcing one of their chosen victims into a waiting police car. Much shouting. They break through, drag their prey brutally by the arms along the ground.
* Wandering in a pocket of relative silence. Eddies of dizzying attacks all along the street. Another wave. Now they have drawn blood, and they seem to like the taste of it. They want more. More and more. They go after the drummers, arrest them. Many seemingly random victims, too. Sandy says to me: 'They're like storm troopers. No other image comes to mind.' Some of our people are crying. Another charge. Young girls carried off, screaming. Sarah thrown to the ground, pounded, dragged over the stones. Again we try to close ranks. More waves. Time expands, elastic, twisting and turning back on itself, remorseless; this misery will never stop. Some of the border police are spraying us with an aerosol mix of chilly pepper and tear-gas, at close quarters, straight into the face. It's not like the usual tear-gas canisters I know well; this is concentrated, and it burns and scorches as if it had burrowed into the pores of your skin and, in particular, your eyes. Even now, two hours later, my face and lips feel singed by flames.
* In the middle of it all—perhaps you won't believe me—an elderly Palestinian gentleman from one of the evicted families materializes with a round bronze plate loaded with dozens of tiny white plastic cups of Turkish coffee. He moves, dreamlike, among us, an imperturbable, humane host worried about how his guests are faring. He calmly offers us coffee. Vicious bursts of staccato blows and intimate violent follies spin madly around him.
* Pushed heavily from behind by a phalanx of policemen, we are driven unevenly away from the stolen homes, toward the upper end of the street. Our numbers have diminished: some 15 have been arrested so far; by a fluke, I am not yet among them. Some of them are herded, captive, into the courtyard and then, we learn later, into the house, with the settlers there to gloat at them. They are lost to us for now, out of contact. We make rough lists of those we know are under arrest. Meanwhile more and more are seized, for no apparent reason, and marched off into the waiting vehicles—by now a considerable fleet. About ten of our people have been wounded. Alon, an internationally known jurist, my colleague at the university, is arguing fruitlessly with the officers: what they are doing, he tells them, is totally illegal. He quotes the law. The soldiers rough him up, too.
* Cries floating through the late-afternoon space, in rhymed Hebrew: 'Soldiers, listen well, you have the right to refuse.' Another nicety: if you say to them, 'You have the duty to refuse,' they can arrest you for incitement. 'Criminals! Cowards! Thieves! You're protecting thieves!' A few courageous drummers are still beating out the time. The senior officer tries desperately to shout through the megaphone that we must disperse at once or we will all be arrested; his voice is drowned out by the drums. More attacks, yet another wave. On and on and on. The longer it goes on, the clearer it becomes that this is no random business, a police action that got out of hand; someone higher up has taken a decision to stamp out dissent in East Jerusalem.
* Tonight is the first candle of Hanukah, another one of those alleged Jewish festivals of freedom. Early this morning, at Kafr Yasuf in the northern West Bank, settlers set fire to a mosque. They left some graffiti on the walls: 'We will burn you all.' Copies of the Koran were torn and torched, prayer-rugs burnt. Jews did this. It's important to understand what this sentence means. Burning means something to us. No doubt the occupation system will protect the perpetrators; and even if, by some miracle, they're pursued and arrested and, by a still greater miracle, brought to trial, you can depend upon the Israeli courts to set them free without punishment. It's been that way for decades now. Soldiers, border police, probably plain-clothes intelligence agents too—they're the ones beating my students, spraying us with gas, prodding us like cattle along the street; all this to protect the settler hooligans who have taken over these homes. These same soldiers and policemen routinely protect the settlers all over the territories. So I guess Hanukah doesn't really count any more when it comes to freedom; or maybe it merely celebrates our freedom to lie to ourselves and to others, as Bibi does when he pretends he wants peace as he hurts and humiliates the Palestinians ever further. There's no end to it, either, only deepening darkness, early winter of the soul. Suddenly I realize that we Israelis have never truly been free, despite what we say; for nature has a law: you cannot diminish another's freedom without impairing or destroying your own. I hope a day will come when the Jews, too, will have the courage to be free.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 6:03 PM
Subject: Re: Sheikh Jarrah
Many of you have asked me, in response to my last two reports, if there is anything you can do in a practical way. I'm attaching a letter which offers some suggestions that are not time-consuming and that may have an impact on an increasingly desperate situation. I might mention that, in addition to what is recommended there, we will soon have mounting legal expenses to cover the court cases of our activists, and that any help in this would be very welcome.
Also, we'd be very grateful if those of you who can do so would pass this letter on to others, especially to websites with wide readership.
The Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations will go on, despite all attempts by the authorities to suppress them. From what we are hearing at this point mid-week, this Friday's march is likely to be much larger than last week's.
We'll keep you informed. Best wishes and thanks, David
As many of you know from our recent reports, rather terrible things are happening in Jerusalem. The Israeli government is pursuing a policy of forcing Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and handing over their properties to Jewish settlers. The guiding idea is to plant colonies of fanatical Jewish settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli courts have recently sanctioned such a move in Sheikh Jarrah, where three Palestinian families have now been evicted from their homes; another 28 homes are under a real threat. Needless to say, only Jews are allowed to reclaim property from before 1948 (in the case of Sheikh Jarrah, from Ottoman times, over a hundred years ago); Palestinians have no hope of reclaiming any of the hundreds of homes in West Jerusalem that once belonged to them.
[We recommend the following videos showing the evictions (activate by Ctrl + left click) including the excellent report by Reuters (the third below).]
Last Friday, December 11, the police violently broke up a peaceful, non-violent protest by Israeli and Palestinian activists and ordinary citizens against what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah. The police were exceptionally brutal, as described in some detail in our report. Twenty-four activists were arrested and held for 36 hours.
(See report in Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1134512.html)
The police asked that several of them be remanded in custody until the end of the legal procedures against them (possibly a matter of weeks), and they also attempted to evict three international volunteers who had been arrested in Sheikh Jarrah. Fortunately, the court did not grant either of these requests, and all those arrested have now been released under various restraining conditions, including forbidding them to enter Sheikh Jarrah in the near future. Many will likely be charged, entirely falsely, with assaulting a policeman. We do not believe that any such charges will hold up in court—there is excellent video footage disproving them—but the ongoing harassment of key civil rights activists does exact a price.
To watch video footage from the demonstration (CTRL + left click) go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ICzXbjBm5o&feature=related
It is very clear that the government wishes to silence democratic protest against its policies of theft and eviction and that it is determined to use the considerable means at its disposal to achieve this goal. The only significant check on their power is pressure from abroad.
If you would like to help, please consider sending an email or fax (the latter is said to be more effective in winning attention) to one of the Israeli diplomatic representatives close to your place of residence (see list below) or to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Nir Barakat, (email@example.com Fax: 972-2-6296014) protesting Israel's policy in East Jerusalem. Even a note of a few short lines can make a difference. You might ask them: Why are discriminatory policies the norm in Jerusalem? Why are only Jews allowed to reclaim their pre-1948 property? Why is the right to protest being suppressed in Jerusalem? Is Israel still a democratic state?
In the past, such protest from abroad has been effective where all other measures failed.
For further information please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Israeli Committee against House Demolitions http://www.icahd.org/eng/
Rabbis for Human Rights http://www.rhr.org.il/index.php?language=en
The Sheikh Jarrah website http://www.sheikhjarrah.com/
With thanks to all of you for your support,
Dr. Amos Goldberg and Prof. David Shulman
Israeli diplomatic representatives:
Austria email@example.com fax: 43 1 47646555
Australia firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 61-2-62154555
CANADA Ottawa email@example.com fax: 1-613-5679878
Toronto firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-416-9408555
Montreal email@example.com fax: 1-514-9408555
France firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 33 1 40765555
Germany email@example.com fax: 49 30 89045309
Great Brittan firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 44-20-79579555
INDIA Mumbai email@example.com fax: 91-22-22824727
New Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 91-22-22824727
Ireland email@example.com fax: 353-1-2309446
Italy firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 39-06-36198555
Japan email@example.com fax: 81-3-32640832
Netherlands firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 31-70-3760555
Spain email@example.com fax: 34-91-7829555
Sweden firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 46-8-52806555
Switzerland email@example.com fax: 41-31-3563555
USA Washington firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-202-3645607
Miami email@example.com fax: 1-305-9259455
Atlanta firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-404-4876555
Chicago email@example.com fax: 1-312-2974855
Boston firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-617-5350255
Philadelphia email@example.com fax: 1-215-5453986
Houston firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-713-6270149
San Francisco email@example.com fax: 1-415-8447555
Los Angeles firstname.lastname@example.org fax: 1-323-8525555
New York email@example.com fax: 1-212-4995515
For other embassies which are not listed here: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/About+the+Ministry/Diplomatic+missions/
David Shulman Reports from Yesterday’s Sheikh Jarrah Protest March in Jerusalem
Ta’ayush member and prolific writer David Shulman has provided a report from yesterday’s Sheikh Jarrah protest march in Jerusalem. His words, as always, are moving and profound:
December 4, 2009 Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem
Exhibit A. Kindly examine the attached photograph. Let’s make an inventory. Three stuffed animals, two face up, one face down. The yellow-and-red one, half animal half cushion, has an inscription: “I love you.” One school bag. Two unidentified red toys. Five pieces of yellow lego. One armless, legless doll. One yellow brush with blue bristles. An Arabic newspaper. A broken pole wrapped in red cloth. A broken flower, perhaps freshly cut, probably thrown out with the vase it sat in.
I don’t want to overload your inbox, so I won’t add more pictures of this patch of ground in front of the al-Kurd family’s house in Sheikh Jarrah. I can tell you what’s there. A kitchen stove, its glass top shattered, green splinters everywhere. Broken microwave lying on its face. Pieces of bicycle and a children’s tractor. Shoes, mostly children’s. Many more pieces of lego. A few pots and pans. Some sheets. Boxes of odds and ends—cellphone, cords, electric wire. Plastic shovel for playing in the sand.
Exhibit B. See attached photograph. Immediately adjacent to the above: Border Policemen outside the door of the house, now inhabited by Israeli settlers. The police are there, needless to say, to protect them. Note the Israeli flags strung over the windows, just to rub it in. The people taking photographs and milling around are Israeli peace activists who came for today’s protest march: ordinary people, shocked by what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah and angry enough to spend this Friday afternoon on the long walk through downtown Jerusalem, then along Road Number One which divides east from west—the future border between the Israeli and the Palestinian cities– past the American Colony Hotel and the neighborhood mosque to this street where, as of Sunday, a third Palestinian family has been violently expelled from its home.
We’re riding a wave of such expulsions. Last Friday we were here, Eileen and I, in this very courtyard, before the court ruling; we spoke at some length with the eloquent, moderate father of the al-Kurd family, who told us the story in gentle Arabic. He had told it many times that day. “We were refugees from Haifa in 1948. Everyone in this neighborhood is a refugee, some from Lydda and Ramla, some from Jaffa. After the 1948 war, the Jordanian government gave us these plots of land to build on, in exchange for our UNRWA cards. The cards were worth a lot of money, but we wanted to live normal lives in our own houses, so we gave up our status as refugees. We have lived in this home since the 1950’s. The Israeli settlers claim the land belongs to the Jews and they went to court, for years we were in the courts. But this is my house, it is our home, I built the annex in the front and planted the fruit trees. Now the court has ordered the annex to be sealed off and they forced us out. Settlers came with the soldiers in the night and started throwing our possessions outside, just like that, and they hit us, one of them grabbed my daughter by the throat and tried to strangle her. They are very violent. We cannot live with them. They hurt us and they insult us and they are thieves and the soldiers help them. The court has left us, for now, with the back part of the house; the front is locked and sealed. On Sunday the court will decide finally. I don’t believe they will force us to leave. I don’t believe they can be so unjust. Come meet my mother, she will tell you.” We peeked through the window: his mother was sleeping, the afternoon receding into night. We sat with him for a few moments in the tent he has put up in the courtyard across from what used to be his front door. His wife, a handsome, modern woman, rushed into the back of the house and emerged with a box of baklava to offer us; it was ‘Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, when guests are especially welcome.
Then on Sunday the court ruled in favor of the settlers, and they moved in immediately with the soldiers to back them up, as is normal in East Jerusalem these days. That’s how the lego and the stuffed animals landed up in the courtyard.
This is the third recent eviction in Sheikh Jarrah—after the al-Hanun and al-Ghawi families lost their homes to settlers– and six more families have already received court orders preparing them for this same fate. We’ve tried our best to stop it, we’ve run an international campaign, we’ve kept volunteers in the houses and protestors outside, we’ve done what we could in the courts and the press, and we’ve failed and will no doubt fail again unless some of you who read this report find a way to bring effective pressure to bear. Let me say at once: the legal situation in Sheikh Jarrah is complicated, but it’s also largely irrelevant. The settlers, through what is called the Sephardic Community Committee, have produced documents to support their claim that these plots of land belonged to Jews during the Ottoman period, over a century ago. Ergo, they must be restored to Jewish hands (like all the rest of Palestine? And what about the hundreds of Palestinian houses in West Jerusalem now inhabited by Jews? No Israeli court is about to return them to their original owners.). All the Palestinian families who live here received the land from the Jordanian government, as Mr. al-Kurd said. They are large families; two generations have been born and grown up in these houses. The whole question has been in the courts for decades, and the rulings have sometimes favored the Palestinians, at other times the settlers. I’m not about to make any judgment relating to the legal niceties.
But make no mistake: these expulsions are first and foremost political acts. They are part of a sustained, constantly ramifying campaign to plant colonies of fanatical Jewish settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods all over East Jerusalem, at the same time driving out whatever Palestinian families happen to be in the way. The courts merely provide the fig leaf (and the municipality and the government provide the soldiers). If you have any doubt, you have only to look at the settlers who have moved in; you can watch them any evening, gloating from the rooftops at their victims, some of whom now live in ramshackle tents they have put up on the street across from their homes. The police have cruelly demolished even the al-Ghawi tent at least five times. I’ve sat there with the family on cold winter nights, and I think I won’t try to describe how it feels. The settlers also have a habit of viciously attacking the Palestinians whom they’ve displaced; sometimes fist-fights develop, as happened earlier this week, with the unsurprising result that the Palestinians—in this case two young men from the al-Kurd family and a third from another family—were arrested and sent to jail. Not only have they been evicted from their home; they also get to spend time in prison, for good measure. When the Channel 2 news reported on events in Sheikh Jarrah on Wednesday night this week, the mainstream announcer offered his Israeli audience a one-line moral to the story: “Palestinians in East Jerusalem don’t obey the orders of the court.”
Marching through the city this afternoon was a lot like old times—say the days of the first Lebanon War in 1982, when to join a peace demonstration was like running a gauntlet of hostile, jeering crowds, who would often punch you or spit at you as you passed. Today we were sixty or seventy, maybe a bit more, hardly a vast horde. One happier thought: a good half of the group was made up of young people (early 20’s), committed, lucid, fearless, full of life and energy. They are the future of the peace movement here, if it has a future. I saw four or five of my honors students, and also two children, now fully grown, of veteran activists I have known. People emerged from their shops on the Ben-Yehudah pedestrian mall to curse us, and someone on a high balcony over the street tried to blast us with water from a hose, and there were some who tried to hit us as we moved through town, beating our drums, crying out old, rather useless, weather-beaten words like “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not murder” and “You can’t build a democracy on murder and theft” and then, in Arabic as we moved east, “No to the Occupation,” and so on. As we passed the hospice near Notre Dame, the male nurses in their white caps—all Palestinian—came out onto the roof to watch us, and when they read the Arabic signs we were carrying they suddenly broke into smiles and raised their thumbs to cheer us, so maybe it was worthwhile just for that. A little farther along, deep in East Jerusalem, religious Jews poked their heads out of the windows of the huge hotel they inhabit to yell “Death to Arabs!” So it goes in the Holy City. We filled the courtyard of the al-Kurd house and spilled over into the street outside it; I can’t help wondering if the settlers inside the house felt at least a little uneasy listening to our cries urging them to get out, to return the theft; or if a tiny seed of doubt took root in the mind of, say, just one policeman. It’s not totally impossible, is it? A Friday afternoon, pre-solstice, just before Shabbat comes in, the cold sun slowly sinking. “Are you glad you came today?” I asked Eileen, and she answered, “It took a long time, and I had so many things to do. But next to this, everything else seems less important.