By Ruth Sherlock
SHEIKH JARRAH, August 9 (JMCC) – One year ago, an ad hoc movement of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals was born around a series of evictions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
At a time when most observers believed the Israeli left wing had died out, the protests continue to draw participation today – and have even spread to other locales.
For the Palestinian families who have been evicted, the movement is a source of support.
“What happens here every Friday gives my family the power to keep on struggling,” say Maher Hannoun, the father of one of the families that was forced from their home.
In Sheikh Jarrah alone, the homes of 25 Palestinian families continue to hang in the balance as the courts examine Ottoman documents challenging their right to reside here.
ONE YEAR ON
The first protests in Sheikh Jarrah were in response to an Israeli court ruling ordering the 53 members of the Hannoun and Ghawi families to leave their homes, which the court found were the rightful property of Jewish settlers.
“The police -- they exploded our front gate and broke the windows to get in. It was early morning. It was dark,” recalls Hannoun. For five months afterwards, he lived on a couch outside his home.
Since that court case, every Friday a eclectic group of Israeli and international protesters have gathered to demonstrate against the takeover.
“There are not many Palestinians here,” says protester Tuvia Schlomski. “The police and the Shin Bet are here. The Palestinians, if they come, pay too heavy a price.”
Though Palestinians are not in heavy attendance at protests, they are closely involved in setting up the demonstrations, say the organizers.
The protests are distinctive, offering live music, fresh orange juice stalls, high-profile speakers, protest t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “There’s no holiness in an occupied city.”
Organizers have used their networks to bring protesters to other demonstrations against home demolitions and evictions.
The group brought hundreds to a protest in Dahmash in April. The village, inside Israel, is unrecognized by the Israeli government and is threatened with demolition.
There, the Sheikh Jarrah protesters bussed in protesters carrying banners and led chants to the backdrop of a trademark drum beat.
Still, there are those who see little change from the demonstrations.
“I am 74,” says demonstrator Moshe Lupianski. “I am very pessimistic, because -- although much of the Jewish population doesn’t like the settlers --they don’t hate them either. They will not act against them.”
Sheikh Jarrah movement organizer Avner Inbar agrees that Israel society is ambivalent about its future with Palestinians.
“Ask the average person in Israel and he will tell us that he is definitely for a two-state solution,” he says. “But dig deeper and he will tell you that he doesn’t trust, and hates the Arabs.”
Organizers of the Sheikh Jarrah protests say that their job is broadening their message. “We need to re-establish trust, and show that Jews and Arabs can stand together on the same political platform,” says Inbar.
REBUILDING THE LEFT
Trust broke down between Palestinians and the Israeli left at the start of the second Palestinian uprising some ten years ago. Small but powerful political parties that brought peace agreements to fruition collapsed, seemingly overnight.
“I think the main thing we [the Sheikh Jarrah movement] are achieving is bringing awareness to left-wing Israelis that it possible to act,” says activist Itamar Haritan.
The movement, says Haritan, is a reminder that the public can use non-violent resistance to show its disagreement with government actions.
“People say that evictions and demolition cannot be stopped until there is a solution to the entire conflict,” he goes on. “But this … can be acted upon now.”
The anniversary of the Sheikh Jarrah protests was marked this week with rallies all over the country. “We have about a thousand people here [in Sheikh Jarrah], over 700 in Tel Aviv, and 100 in Haifa among other places,” said organizer Avner Inbar.
Those numbers are a far cry from the thousands who once demonstrated in support of peace with Palestinians. Nevertheless, the Sheikh Jarrah movement shows no sign of dying out.