Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah

I wouldn't call it a revolution, but events in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah are starting to put the Israeli left back in the public consciousness. The story goes back to last summer:
"A mixed group of Israeli and international human rights activists have been gathering weekly since August in this residential neighborhood to protest the eviction of two extended Palestinian families - a total of 53 people - from the homes they had occupied since 1956. Originally refugees from areas that became part of Israel after the 1948 war, the families were settled in the abandoned houses, then under Jordanian control, by UN refugee authorities...

"The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Sheikh Jarrah houses had belonged to Jews before 1948, when the city was divided between Jordan and the new state of Israel. The court ruling paved the way for the evictions, which were carried out by Israeli border police who broke into the homes in the pre-dawn hours of August 2, 2009, and evicted the families by force. One of the Palestinian families has since lived in a tent pitched nearby."

Let's first note what this shows about what counts as legal in Israel. A Jew is permitted to reclaim land in Jerusalem from before the war, and people who have lived there for half a century are rounded up and evicted in the middle of a night. A Palestinian with property in Israel they had to abandon during 1948, however, is probably not even allowed to enter Israel.

What's getting attention in Israel is the police treatment of protesters, which itself has spawned a larger protest:
"In Sheikh Jarrah this week the demonstration was even bigger than those of previous weeks. 350 demonstrators, amongst them former minister and Knesset Chair Avraham Burg, former minister Yossi Sarid, MK Muhamad Barak’e and former MK Uri Avneri, gathered in a park near the neighborhood to protest the racist evictions taking place there in spite of intensifying police oppression of the struggle (see last week’s report). Two demonstrators offered the police officer in charge, Avi Cohen, a big bouquet of flowers, thanking him for helping the struggle gain nationwide attention by arresting about 20 activists every week. Cohen refused to accept the flowers and they were left at his feet.

"After about an hour of demonstrating in a tense atmosphere, demonstrators started marching towards the neighborhood. Border and Riot policemen stopped the march, while still allowing settlers and visitors of the Shimon Hat’sadik Tomb through. After a quarter of an hour police attacked the demonstration, arresting about 15 people and beating on others. The demonstration continued for another two and half hours, with police occasionally beating people and shoving them back, but attempting to avoid too many more arrests. The day ended with 22 arrested.

"During the demonstration it became apparent that settlers were attacking Palestinians inside the neighborhood, and two residents required medial care. At the same time police raided Palestinian homes and arrested people who participated in the demonstration and then went home. The demonstrators’ protests outside against the police’s siding with the violent settlers were met with yet more police brutality."

The first arrests, it should be noted, were ruled illegal by Israel's Supreme Court. Beyond the issues in Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem more broadly, many Israelis are concerned about a long-term deterioration in human rights in the country. The crackdown on visas for NGO workers in the Palestinian territories also probably represents part of this.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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