Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah: Common Decency

David Grossman, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, and thirty other writers and scholars, forced from the sidewalk across from the homes of Sheikh Jarrah's evicted families.

The organizers of the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations are a loose, but hardly amorphous, group; no formal hierarchy, but rather a network of perhaps a dozen thirty-somethings, as closely knit as a basketball team. The ones who more or less act as the point guards are graduate students who've gone to school in America and have come back--Assaf Sharon from Stanford, Avner Inbar from the University of Chicago--to write theses in political philosophy. Instead, they are now practicing political philosophy. The oldest in the group, Dr. Amos Goldberg, is a Hebrew University teaching fellow in Holocaust Studies (and a former graduate student of my wife, Sidra).

Almost none in the group, I hasten to add, are leftists in the ordinary sense. Assaf and Amos are the products of the National Religious Party youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and came by their skepticism honestly. Another, Sara Benninga, is the daughter of a distinguished Tel Aviv University business professor. Most came to this issue because it could simply not be ignored. Little by little, they are becoming radicals of democratic globalism.

The leaders of this group are also gaining a good deal of experience in the management of protest. For yesterday's rally, they planned an operation that seemed to those of us who participated both poignant and instructive. It also wound up exposing the arbitrary ways the Jerusalem police has been dealing with the growing challenge to the city's disgraceful treatment of its Arab residents:

Ever since the Friday demonstrations began back in January, the police had cordoned off the homes of the displaced families after about 2 PM, so that demonstrators were unable to show solidarity directly to the people evicted, or express their disgust with the Jewish settlers. In response--a kind of outflanking operation--the group invited about 30 of us, including the author David Grossman, former speaker Avrum Burg, NIF President Naomi Chazan, Israel Prize winner Zeev Sternhell, to gather at the homes of the families at 1:30 PM, where we conducted a kind of impromptu seminar for a couple of hours (not a hard thing for writers and professors, as things turned out).

At around 3:30 PM, we all suddenly emerged onto the street with our signs, and stood across from the homes that were confiscated, kitty-corner to the others that are under threat. When the police commanders realized that we were actually behind their lines, they quickly organized and sent a phalanx of heavily armed officers to form a line behind us, and began pushing us out toward the main demonstration in a park across the street.

WE HAD ALL agreed in advance that we would not resist, or do anything to challenge police authority. As we were being pushed, we walked very slowly but steadily toward the demonstrating crowd that was gathered in the usual place. Now and then we would scold the police for pushing too aggressively. Most of the young officers seemed a little abashed to be pushing well-known sixty-somethings around, but that was the point.

Then something unexpected and chilling happened. The commander of the police spotted Assaf and recognized him as the group's organizer. He instructed several officers to seize him and put him under arrest. Immediately, Avner, Amos, and another leader sat down, challenging the police to arrest them, too, which is exactly what the police did. The instinctive way the three sat down in solidarity, unwilling to allow Assaf to be arrested alone, touched those of us who were walking beside them in ways that are hard to explain. It reminded me of a sentence in Albert Camus' The Plague, that there is no heroism in fighting something like the plague, just common decency.

David Grossman then addressed the crowd across the street, speaking more passionately than I have ever seen him in public, exhorting the crowd to double its number next week. (Hebrew speakers can see the speech here.) A few of us, including Burg, went to the police station to testify on behalf of those arrested. As I waited, the commander, one Shmuel Ben Yosef, returned to the station, spotted me, asked me if I was one of those arrested, and loudly ordered me from the station. When I reminded him that I was not an officer subject to his command, but a citizen, his syntax changed (from a command to a request) but not his threatening tone.

I found myself out on the street, where I waited for God knows what. But the leaders were released a few hours later, without my testimony; the charges were essentially dropped, as they had been in the past, since the suspects had after all done nothing illegal (so the courts have already stipulated). They were arrested essentially because they had surprised the police and pissed off their commander.

As I waited outside, the group's drummers came and began playing across from the station, so that those detained inside would know they were not alone. I dare say that is the last thing anyone felt.

Drummers coming to be heard across from the police station, as demonstration leaders await release.



Shoded Yam said...

Pissing off the cops? Welcome to my world :-). That took balls Bernie. Kol Hakavod L'cha and to everyone else who who stood with you. My next trip to Israel will be at Sukkot and I too shall stand with you and the others. I can guarantee, Five-Oh will NOT like me :-P

Y. Ben-David said...

Bernie, you hit a new low of hypocrisy in this piece. You say that you all wanted to express "your disgust with the Jewish settlers". WELL, BERNIE, WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU? You came from North America to live in a house that the Arabs say was stolen from them in 1948. How many of the Arabs at your demonstrations say you had a "right" to come from North America and take that Arab's house?

In any event, the Jews who moved into the house in Sheikh Jarrah did so on the basis of a court order. They did not invade the house (as was done to the house you live in after the 1948 War), nor are they squatters there. If you have a beef there, it is not with them, it is with the court that granted them the right to live there (but I imagine you find it more energizing to demostrate against religious "Judeans" than the most-likely secular judges who made the ruling allowing them to move in there).

You and your fellow "progressives" can come and demonstrate there every Friday for the next hundred years but you won't get the Jews out of there. If you really want to act upon your "progressive" concience, I suggest you track down the Arab who owned the home you are now living in and give it back to him. That would be "justice" as the Arabs see it.

Potter said...

I thought police are not supposed to takes sides in a democracy that allows peaceful dissent. Sounds like they have been harassing and suppressing legal peaceful dissent/resistence which is NOT threatening the peace except for some good humored and spirited protest drumming.

Potter said...

How many Arabs are ready to live with international law, the '67 line as a border, adequate compensation for what was stolen and an end to occupation/their own state? How many Arabs then would not have issue with those who came and still come from anywhere and everywhere to Israel within it's proper borders? How many Arabs are content to live with their half of Jerusalem and a shared holy basin?

Y. B-D you ask the wrong questions in order to get the answers you prefer to dwell on.

Y. Ben-David said...

Don't ask me these questions, ask the Palestinians. Why do you think they insist on the "Palestinian Right of Return"? Why do you think they have rejected all Israeli offers of peace until now? I know you, as a reasonable person, will accept a peace agreement on the lines you outlined, but you don't speak for them, nor do you represent their interests.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David-

Why do you think Jews have a right of return but Palestinians do not? If ROR were applicable since time immemorial, which it is not, Palestinians would also have a claim, a double claim, perhaps more than some Jews- or so geneticists tell us.

When we talk about the modern state of Israel’s legitimacy and acceptance it’s about international standards and law and we refer to the UN and the acquiescence of members.

Palestinians insistence on the right of return is about the need of justice. The basis of the claim is dispossession caused by the establishment of Israel. ROR cannot be exercised by turning the clock back and evicting Israeli’s and they know it. Arabs know they cannot push for implementation of international law, which they are now asking for, and the destruction of Israel at the same time.

Palestinians need to come to the table with ROR- to use in an agreement. Israel can't demand that they give it up, nor even should you ask for that prior.

Re “generous offers”. I think you have to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes to know whether they were acceptable or fair. It’s not only about what Israeli’s feel they are giving up ( of what was not legitimately theirs to begin with) . The offers are no longer on any table that we know of. But what's to prevent them from being reinstated?

BTW don’t forget that Arafat did not make a counter-offer but also Sharon took away the offers and went exclusively to war mode and unilateral action, the futility of teaching Palestinians some lesson which helped Hamas rise and helped divide Palestinians. Ergo “no partner”.

Olmert, after 8 years of Sharon, just about to leave office under a cloud, with no backing, suddenly got clarity, made an offer to Abbas. That could have been an opening but it was not backed by his possible successor Livni, and definitley not Netanyahu.

From what I read Olmert's offer was not going to result in a viable state either; it was “as is- take it or leave it”. But Erekat says it could have been worked on. Don't forget the Gaza siege and war poisoning the atmosphere.

Netanyahu has not resurrected Olmert’s offer. Are Israeli’s behind it?

Is there any unity in Israel’s offers from one leader to the next?

Aren’t we seeing more now a rejection and fear of a Palestinian state altogether?

You keep talking about generous offers.

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