Monday, February 21, 2011

A Day of Solidarity with Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah (Part Two)

On our way back to Jerusalem, I waited anxiously for the demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah. Over the last year (or so), I have been following their struggle on facebook and in the press. My main reason however to go to the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration was that during my last two months, after years of only briefly visiting Jerusalem, I have had a chance to come in touch once again with the city which during the last decade took second place to Tel Aviv. In fact, leaving to the states for my graduate studies in 1995 somehow cut off new ties which I formed with the city; in 1994 one of my final BA paper at Haifa University was on “East” Jerusalem under the Jordanian and Israeli occupation, and I also managed to pull off a successful meeting between students at Al-Quds University and Haifa, during the same year.

Like my trip to Hebron, I cannot help but to feel frustrated also when seeing Jerusalem. Clearly, the Palestinian neighborhoods are under threat from radical Jewish groups who see fit to create “mini-Settlements” within neighborhoods once exclusively Arab. With the same ideology as those in Hebron, they can only do this through a violent hegemonic presence, protected by weapons and walls. Every new Jewish home is quick to wave an Israeli flag in the faces of a people who simply would like to live their normal lives but are faced daily with an onslaught of hatred. This is happening everywhere: the Old City, Silwan, and Sheikh Jarrah, not to mention in the heart of the neighborhoods on the Mount of Olives. This along with home demolitions carried out by the Jerusalem municipality has created a reality where the Palestinian community sees themselves under an imminent threat, in terms of their culture, heritage, and physical being (see my blog entry from March 2010, entitled Home to Israelis and Palestinians, Jerusalem A Shared City, where I briefly focus on Sheikh Jarrah, and on the controversy surrounding the building of the Museum of Tolerance on the grounds of a Muslim Cemetery).

These homes are occupied through Israeli legal channels (not recognized by international law), and with foreign money which purchases the homes at extravagant prices. Legally, some Jews following 1967, who possessed title-deeds of the property from Ottoman and mandate Palestine, successfully reclaimed their property through legal loopholes; obviously Palestinians who were forced out of their home during the 1948 War (or were not allowed to return to them following the war) do not have that luxury. While the tenants were protected for decades as long as the paid the rent, this too has been coming to an end, with families being evicted during the last few years; some cases after the homes have been taken over by force by the new Jewish tenants and owners. One of the latest development was the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel in January of this year, to make way for a Jewish neighborhood within the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

It is within this environment the Palestinian-Israeli protest group Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity group emerged. Importantly, their struggle now has expanded to include other neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Bedouin settlements which are losing legal battles, and Arab communities in Lod. The important part linking all of these struggles is the blatant lack of justice dealt to the Palestinian community (within Israel and in the occupied territories) by the Israeli establishment. Below, at the end of this blog entry, I have attached the English version (taken from their webpage) of the Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah’s answers to why the struggle.

During my time at the protest, I could feel the power of the struggle. Not like so many leftist movements in Israel, this movement is much more of a grass-roots movement, which from the beginning has integrated the needs and the participation of the local population. Essentially, they have created a robust and strong voice against the violence of expulsion, and thus created a sincere challenge to the demagoguery of the extreme-right settlers.

Jerusalem is both an Israeli and a Palestinian city, regardless of how the borders will be carved out in the future (if the two sides ever reach an agreement). While countries in the region have successfully erased our memories of the past, with the wiping out of villages and the cleansing of historical documentation, it is important to stop the process while it is taking place. I for one will work to keep the Palestinian heritage alive in Jerusalem, a struggle that is literally losing ground with each passing day.

For a link to photographs from my day in Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah click here

Here is a piece taken from the Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah Webpage concerning why the struggle:

Why is the struggle against settlements and evictions in Sheikh Jarrah so important?

  • Because the injustice is crying out and is being perpetrated in our name: Families of refugees from 1948 have been expelled from their homes in 2010 and turned into refugees for a second time, and their houses are in the hands of settlers who instigate violence, protected by the Jerusalem municipality and police.
  • Because the construction of a settlement in this location will complete the encirclement of the old city by Jewish enclaves and disrupt any possibility for the division of the city as part of a just political arrangement, as well as the possibility of a shared life together.
  • Because we are scared that Jerusalem is going to turn into Hebron, ruled by groups of racist zealots.
  • Because the triumph of settlements in Sheikh Jarrah, without the return of the ’48 refugees to their houses, destroys the chance of realising a democratic society. The court ruling in favour of the Nahalat Shimon company is based on title deeds showing Jewish ownership of the land from the Ottoman period; many Palestinians are in possession of similar title deeds, for territories and properties within the Green Line. Democracy demands equality before the law. The situation in which there is one law for Jews and another law for Arabs is intolerable. (“Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the citizen” Leviticus 24:22)
  • Because the arrests carried out at the weekly demonstrations are illegal (as the court determined) and endanger the rule of law and the human rights of all of us in Israel.
  • Because in the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah partnership between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis is developing – this is the place from which an alternative to the hatred and suspicion, which are imprisoning us all behind walls, might grow.
  • Because in Sheikh Jarrah there is a growing group of Israelis who are saying, enough! Enough of the settlements! Enough of the intimidation! Enough of the hatred, the provocation of disputes, the racism! Enough of public apathy! Enough of the long years of cooperation of all the authorities with right-wing, extremist settlers. Enough, to all those who want to destroy the life of us all and trap our future here for the sake of a nationalistic, messianic dream, and prevent any future peace agreement.
    Here is the Link for a reference of where it appears online.

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