Galit Hasan-Rokem: Dept. of Hebrew Literature and the Jewish and Comparative Folklore Program - The Hebrew University. Research Center: Folklore Research Center. Chair: Max and Margarethe Grunwald Chair of Folklore. Research Interests: Folk Literature, Folklore Theory, Rabbinic Literature, Proverbs, "The Wandering Jew". Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Webpage: http://jewish.huji.ac.il/faculty/folklore_faculty/hasan-rokem.html
Last update - 07:27 17/12/2009
Sheikh Jarrah is no fairy tale
By Galit Hasan-Rokem
I don't think the government has to be generous or nice, but I would very much like to live in a country whose government displays a minimum of wisdom and honesty.
Last Friday I participated in a march that started at the Hamshbir square in the center of Jerusalem and ended in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. This is a neighborhood on the "seam line" between the eastern and western sides of the city, near a prayer site at a tomb from the end of the Roman period or the beginning of Byzantine times, a tomb that Jewish tradition dating from the 13th century ascribes to the grave of Simeon the Just. He is a rather anonymous figure, mentioned in the Mishna at the beginning of the Ethics of the Fathers. The Mishna and the historian Josephus Flavius state that Simeon the Just lived several hundred years before the tomb was built.
The march, which was also a quasi-demonstration that took place with police approval, was intended to express opposition to the removal of Palestinian families from the site historically known as Batei Navon, named after the leader of the Sephardi Jews in Jerusalem who bought the houses at the end of the 19th century.
The Palestinian families have lived there since 1948. They were removed not to house the descendants of the land's original owners, but for settlers from an extremist organization working to populate Jerusalem - all of Jerusalem - with Jews. I was surprised by the small number of negative responses we received from the many city residents in the main streets through which we marched. The closer we got to Sheikh Jarrah, the more tense the policemen escorting us through the city streets became. The police even photographed and filmed the demonstrators.
When we reached the end of the march, it became clear that the police escort was a harbinger of the coming storm. There were many police officers at the site, and when we stopped to shout slogans that reflected the declared purpose of the demonstration, dozens of police cars and police officers showed up within seconds.
I have no intention of describing what happened next, since the events have been covered in the print and broadcast media and brought before the courts. But the police officers' level of violence, especially their use of pepper spray and the arrival of undercover police wearing black face masks seemed to be part of a prepared response that was not proportional to the demonstrators' acts or words.
For all the bad feelings generated by the event itself, what is worse is the feelings that surface when thinking of the absence of wisdom and integrity entailed in defending the rights of provocative extremists to settle in this neighborhood. A few such extremists participated in the event. Their fiery hatred directed at the Palestinians as well as the Jewish demonstrators was sickening, as was the thought of the danger of violence that is now being carried out in other places in the occupied territories.
In a week in which the foreign minister informed us that he has accepted the Council of the European Union decision that Jerusalem will be the capital of two countries, Israel and Palestine - a decision that comes in place of the Swedish proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, which was rejected - we witnessed with our own eyes that what was happening on the ground was meant to completely rule out any such possibility.
The cooperative plan described in the European proposal is not compatible with destructive and expulsive settlement or with the extraction of any signs of Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim identity from sites that were traditionally the homes of people with multiple religious and ethnic affiliations.
Sheikh Jarrah is not a fairy tale. It is the real thing, and it is a fact of our lives.
The author is a professor in the Hebrew literature department and the Jewish and Comparative Folklore Program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.