This Saturday night (March 6 2010) will witness one of the most important demonstrations in years, in the struggle for human rights and justice here in Israel. The struggle against injustice and dispossession, against the Hebronization of East Jerusalem, and against the anti-democratic processes undermining Israeli society. In this struggle, Sheikh Jarrah has already become a symbol. But as in any struggle for justice and equality, that has never been the goal. The goal is justice and equality, human rights and a future that embraces all human beings without distinction. Saturday night’s rally organizers hope to attract thousands and to finally make justice ring in Sheikh Jarrah. If successful, it may gradually become possible — to move beyond symbolism to the true purpose of the already months’ long Sheikh Jarrah struggle: justice.
The asymmetric legal situation in Israel, through the Absentee Property Law, makes it possible for Jews to return to property that was owned by Jews before 1948 — while Palestinian property return is completely impossible. This is both unjust and unwise. In Sheikh Jarrah, this has resulted in Palestinian refugees, originally housed in the neighborhood by the Jordanian government after 1948, becoming refugees a second time. Of course, unlike the settlers forcing the Palestinians out of their homes, the Palestinians cannot return to the homes they owned before 1948 — not in Jaffa, nor in West Jerusalem or anywhere else.
So far, four families have lost their homes: Al-Rawi, Hanoon, and the two Al-Kurd families. Many more families face a similar fate if the plans of the Simeon the Just Company materialize, to destroy their homes and instead build 200 housing units for Jewish settlers.
By itself, what is described above is already more than sufficient to require us to demonstrate against. But the injustice does not stop with that: what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is part of a larger process — the Hebronization of East Jerusalem. In the raging struggle over Jerusalem’s future, facts are already being determined on the ground, and the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are forced to pay the price upfront, their human rights violated in a great variety of ways. Inadequate to non-existent infrastructure, shortage in classrooms, social, health and mail services, revocation of residency status, lack of planning programs that would have allowed for legal construction and the constant fear of house demolitions – all these are added to the destructive processes sadly familiar to us from another city: Hebron.
As if watching the replay of a movie whose ending we have already seen, here in front of our eyes the Hebron processes are taking place once again, this time in Jerusalem: the entry of settlers to the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, the provocations and violence, the one-sided actions of the security forces – always serving the interests of the Jewish settlers over the rights of the Palestinian residents. And then, what follows: restrictions of movement, segregation, life becoming a nightmare, and all this in the name of “security considerations”. Shuhada Street in Hebron is already closed for Palestinians for years — a street that was part of the bustling heart of one of the largest Palestinian cities, and has become a ghost road in the service of extremist settlers, the human rights of local Palestinians thrown to the roadside.
A similar process to what has already happened in Hebron is now happening in Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah now has police checkpoints at the entrance to the neighborhood. During certain hours on Friday the entrance to the neighborhood is generally blocked, but is open to Jewish worshipers. In contrast, Jews wishing to enter Sheikh Jarrah to express solidarity with the Palestinian families are prevented from entering the neighborhood. Violence against Palestinians ends with arrests — of Palestinians. The mechanism of dispossession and the construction of security excuses are already at work. And all this is happening right here, in Jerusalem.
In tandem, the Jerusalem Police tried to break the Israeli activists who wanted to express solidarity with the Palestinian families and protest against the injustice done to them. Only after nearly a hundred false arrests and a series of hearings at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, did the police finally allow for the protest vigils to take place. For many weeks, each Friday, rain or cold, arrests or no arrests, hundreds of Israelis gather to protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Now, the Police is trying to keep Saturday’s planned demonstration as far as possible from the neighborhood, perhaps fearing the thought that the Palestinians will be able to hear the voices of those who consider them human beings, not objects for removal. High Court justices will hear an urgent petition on this matter Thursday morning; hopefully they will not forget the Court’s ruling in a similar context almost twenty years ago: “The location’s effectiveness is the lifeblood of a people’s assembly.”
Whether the police will succeed in distancing the demonstration or the Court will intervene in defense of freedom of speech is yet to be seen. Either way, what is at stake is the process that has not begun in Sheikh Jarrah nor will be stopped there, unless we begin to change course. It is the process of dispossession and the constant injustices against the Palestinian residents – while canonizing acts of violence. Israelis demonstrating in Sheikh Jarrah are no longer regularly arrested, but that is not the heart of the matter. The question that should concern all of us — and mobilize all of us — to demonstrate in Sheikh Jarrah this Saturday night is this: How to stop injustice and how in its stead promise a shared future, common to all people, based on foundations of human rights and equality. It is this voice that will ring this Saturday night from Sheikh Jarrah — a strong voice that we must ring for Israelis and Palestinians, a resonant voice that we must ring for the world to hear, a personal voice that we must ring for ourselves. And this can only happen in one way: for each and every one of us to come this Saturday night at 7pm to Sheikh Jarrah. Together, let us bring justice to ring in Sheikh Jarrah.