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5,000 Protest in Sheikh Jarah

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I returned to Israel on Friday, just before Shabbat, after a five-day visit to the U.S.A. where I attended the Christian Muslim Summit at the Washington Cathedral. After sleeping many hours on Shabbat, I attended the demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday night. This was the largest demonstration so far (5,000 people!) and marked a significant point in the struggle to end the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

Sheikh Jarrah is now an international story drawing attention to the ongoing activities of the Israeli authorities to settle Jews in Sheikh Jarah, Mount Olives and Silwan, densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods east of the Old City. These settlements complete a circle of Jewish settlement around the Old City/The Holy Basin. In each of these Palestinian neighborhoods, the violent evictions, settlement by extremist Jewish settlers and organizations, and home demolitions, create ongoing conflict and violence between Jews and Palestinians and inflict suffering on all the Palestinian residents of these areas.

In addition to the evictions, a not unexpected result is the emigration of Palestinian residents. If the Israeli plan is not stopped, this circle of Jewish settlement will make a negotiated settlement for Jerusalem impossible. For more detailed information, read the comprehensive analysis on the Ir Amim website that ends as follows:

"Sheikh Jarrah is another link in the process that is transforming East Jerusalem to an arena where extremist organizations do as they please: taking control of properties in dubious ways, administering private police with government funding, and engaging in endless confrontation with the Palestinian population. All this is done with direct an
indirect government support, while placing obstacles in the way of the prospects of achieving a resolution in Jerusalem and the region as a whole."

Back to the demonstration: during the week, representatives of the activists who have been organizing the resistance in Sheikh Jarah, successfully argued before the Supreme Court that they had a right to hold a demonstration in the neighborhood. Until now, all demonstrations were held outside the neighborhood which was blocked off by the police.
Even though the Supreme Court affirmed their right to protest close to the site of the evictions, it ruled that only 300 people were allowed to enter the neighborhood, and the main demonstration was to be held outside the neighborhood on a soccer field. Following the demonstration, 300 of the protesters went into the village to the site of the evictions.

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The crowd in the soccer field was vibrant, music blared from a very effective sound system, images were flashing on a huge screen. I have attended several Israeli demonstrations but this was the first demonstration where there was a large presence of Palestinians, Palestinian flags, and speakers who addressed the crowd in Arabic.

The mixed crowd -- Israeli Jews, mostly secular but some wearing kippot, Palestinian women in traditional dress, Palestinian and Israeli youth -- felt wonderful, a rare experience of the reality in this country, two peoples living together on the land with two languages, two cultures and three or more religions. It is very rare for the two peoples to share anything. I think among the young people involved in this struggle, it is truly an Israeli-Palestinian effort and their vision is one of a shared future. One of the most prominent posters at these rallies reads: Jews and Arabs together, refuse to be enemies. In Hebrew it rhymes: Yehudim v'Aravim, mesarvim lih'yot oyvim.

Before the demonstration, there were groups of Palestinians dancing with flags to the beat of Arabic music. I was drawn in by their energy. I couldn't stay for all the speeches and performances but heard a speech by one of the evicted families, by a Palestinian leader of the organizing group, and by Daphna Golan, a longtime Israeli peace activist. The theme of Daphna's talk was: "We are all born free and equal" which she repeated with the crowd in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Amir Lev, Israeli singer, and Nasser, who was evicted from his home, on stage at the demonstration.
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I had to leave early to celebrate my son's birthday. On my way back to the city I passed three young chasidim who sneered at me calling me a "leftist/smolani." It was a good reminder of the chasm that exists among Jews and the chasm that must be bridged in the country. I left savoring the experience at the demonstration, a rare few moments when Jews and Palestinians join together. It gave me some hope for the future.

Avram Burg has an opinion piece in this morning's Ha'Aretz. He also points to the activists of the resistance at Sheikh Jarah as examplars of integrity in an unjust city.

"Once justice dwelled here. Now the settlers do, murderers of the nation's soul.

And no one utters a word, but for a few patriots. People of truth and morals who refuse to stand idly by while the state of Jewish refugees repeatedly throws Palestinian families into the street and hands their miserable homes over to bearded, blaspheming thugs.

These people of integrity are the leftists of Jerusalem, who have been through countless clashes with the "Jerusalem syndrome" loonies. They know only too well the city's ugly truth, its terrible teens, and will no longer look the other way. They are committed to stopping with their body the torch-bearing brutes who seek to set it on fire.

No one leads the city now, nor will salvation for it come from the country's elected leader. Sheikh Jarrah is beyond the cognizance of Mayor Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as though the commotion has nothing to do with them, as though it is happening in Sudan or Tehran. And in the absence of leadership of the state, and the peace bloc, our children have taken on the responsibility, shaken off indifference and despair and brought us here.

The circle is expanding and it is full of life, rage and hope. Israeli humanism has been reborn in East Jerusalem. We are there in the summer heat and the winter rains, shouting and calling on others to gather round, seeking both Shabbat and peace. We will not recoil from violent police officers or hotheaded harassers. We stand and pledge: We shall not be silent when Ahmad and Aysha are sleeping in the street outside their home, which has become the settlers' domain. Is that justice? Not ours! Is that law? No, it is iniquity."


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Rabbi Brian Walt is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights North America and was the founding Rabbi of JRF Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, PA

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