Monday, June 14, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah Movement In Crisis

I've just returned to Jerusalem, after a couple of weeks in the US, to find the Sheikh Jarrah leadership contending with a problem that has been building for weeks, but suddenly seems a full-blown crisis. There is no flagging of their determination, and the cause is as catalyzing as ever--perhaps more than ever. But the Jerusalem police has been using their unchecked authority to bring charges against leading activists--charges the courts have routinely thrown out, but which have resulted in crushing legal costs for these young people, some of whom are graduate students with small children. I have just donated to their defense fund and I appeal to readers of this blog to do the same. You may do so here. I like to think that, every now and then, you've felt a twinge of guilt that you've been getting these posts for free, and even free of distracting web ads. Now is your chance to repay the effort. And please send this appeal to three friends. Let's get something going.

Here is the letter one of the activists, Avner Inbar, prepared for distribution:

Between August 2008 and November 2009, 4 Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. 24 families still face imminent threat of eviction. These Palestinians are all former refugees who escaped their erstwhile houses during the 1948 war. Arriving in then Jordanian ruled East Jerusalem, these 28 families waived their UN refugee cards in exchange for the right to build houses on a vacant lot in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

After Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, a Jewish organization which owned the land prior to the ’48 war reclaimed ownership over their new houses. The families, however, were not allowed to regain ownership over their former properties in Israel. Indeed, while Israel’s “Absentee Properties Law” officially strips Palestinians of ownership rights over their pre-1948 properties, Jews are free to reclaim possession of pre-48 assets. And this inequality before the law is responsible for the current crisis in Sheikh Jarrah.

The small struggle for the rights of the Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem is quickly turning into a vibrant social movement. Each Friday, hundreds of protesters from all over Israel congregate in the small neighborhood, standing shoulder to shoulder with the local Palestinians. On March 6th, more than 4,000 people descended on the neighborhood for one of the largest and most inspiring Israeli-Palestinian rallies in recent history. Due to the growing momentum of these protests, Israelis can no longer turn a blind eye to their government’s irrational and immoral policy of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem, and the international community, led by the White House, is finally taking a resolute stance on this key issue. Many commentators in Israel and around the world view what came to be known as the Sheikh Jarrah Movement as the new promise for the Israeli peace camp.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli authorities have not remained silent in the face of this burgeoning movement. More than 120 activists have been arrested since December 2009 and the Jerusalem Police is now beginning to press charges against dozens of them on the pretext of “illegal assembly.” The crackdown had recently escalated when policemen arrived at the doorstep of one of the activists during the Shabbat dinner, taking the activist into custody without legal warrant. On Friday, May 14th, dozens of activists sat on the road opposite the police barrier blocking them from entering the neighborhood in an inspiring act of non-violent civil disobedience. The police reacted with extreme violence, breaking arms and ribs, and arrested 14 activists.

Even though the legality of the Sheikh Jarrah protests had been repeatedly reaffirmed by three panels of the Israeli court, the police are unyielding in their attempt to crush them. And, while we are confident that the court will continue to uphold our right to protest against the intolerable injustice of the occupation, the Jerusalem Police’s politically motivated war of legal attrition against the Sheikh Jarrah movement is taking its toll on the activists.

Legal costs are mounting. The much appreciated voluntary work of a few dedicated lawyers is no longer sufficient to counter the upcoming wave of indictments or to enable the activists to appeal against Police persecution. And so, while we have been able to launch and maintain this struggle without funds or institutional support, we must turn to you for help at this crucial moment. We are in desperate need of a legal fund in order to defray the costs of supplying more than 120 activists with the appropriate legal defense, and to continue our string of legal victories against an overly politicized Police.

What is more, the growth of the Sheikh Jarrah movement entails rapidly growing expenses. At the moment, our inability to pay for buses from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel result in much small demonstrations than are currently possible. Donations for transportation will help us turn these demonstrations into increasingly influential mass events.

Avner has also provided a breakdown of the movement's expenses:

Legal costs per arrestee: $2,500. Cost of currently pending cases: $60,000 (2 unified cases + 20 individual cases). Many more cases are awaiting arraignment hearings with the good possibility that there will be further indictments.

Cost of back and forth bus from Tel Aviv: $500. We aim to bring 2 busses of demonstrators per week. Heretofore, these were funded by the demonstrators themselves and the sale of T-shirts. However, bus fare is too expensive for many demonstrators to come each week, and most of the regulars already own T-shirts (or several). We need to provide transportation to keep the regular demonstrators coming and to enlarge the numbers that can attend. Estimated monthly transportation costs: $4000

Overall costs for the next 6 months: $84,000

Avner can be reached directly at Anyone who can contribute significant amounts, or knows somebody who can, please contact him immediately. Or, again, you may contribute $50, $100, $200 or more here.


Potter said...

Okay we are giving $100. Cheaper than an air ticket...

Anonymous said...

Check this video dedicated to Jerusalem. The song is written and performed by Lebanese singerTania Kassis who became famous around the world with her Islamo-Christian Ave Maria (On You Tube as well). A call for coexistence!!!!

Shoded Yam said...

Okay, just donated. When I visit during sukkot and stand with you guys and make a nuisance of myself, you can use it to bail my sorry ass out of jail :-)Ahahahahahaha!

Shoded Yam said...

Just kidding, Bernie. I can take care of myself (in more ways than one). Use it to help one of your students. I'll send more when I can and encourage my friends to dig deep.

Chazak V' Ematz


Potter said...

I recommend Charlie Rose's interview with Mamoud Abbas- which runs for about 52 minutes. He impressed me- the questions were good, the answers very good, no platitudes, no lies, no revisionist history.

Abbas said that there will never be a peace agreement without East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. Never.

He wanted to know why, when they are ready for a deal, when there is comparatively no violence, when there is an Arab Initiative ( 57 countries he said, that's what he said) when the right of return can be negotiated, when Hamas agrees to the 67 lines ( and therefore recognition of Israel)-- why aren't the Israeli's willing to make a deal?

This Sheik Jarrah demonstration is about much more than the particulars.

My idealism cringes at the fact that promoting justice depends upon money- but it does I guess. I do hope some higher rollers contribute- not only here in the US, Americans, but also and better from Israeli's.

Dennis said...

I'm a bit confused by the letter in the post:

"4 Palestinian families were evicted ... Due to the growing momentum of these protests, Israelis can no longer turn a blind eye to their government’s irrational and immoral policy of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem ..
Even though the legality of the Sheikh Jarrah protests had been repeatedly reaffirmed by three panels of the Israeli court, the police are unyielding in their attempt to crush them. ... ."

(1) I thought that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to the Jews? What is being protested - the court decision?

(2) What does "“Judaizing” East Jerusalem mean"? Do these people believe that Jews have no right to live in east Jerusalem? Are Arabs allowed to live in west Jerusalem? Judaizing Jerusalem sounds like an oxymoron.

(3) Is it not a tad ironic that on the one hand the property was ruled by a court to belong to the Jews, and on the other the letter protests the arrests based on - wait for it - court rulings? I guess some rulings are good. Others, not so much.

If this were a government decision, sure protest away and some of the arguments here make sense. But isn't the point that this was decision by the freaking Supreme Court!? Aren't the Jews just following the law?

Y. Ben-David said...

You are quite right, the protests should be against the court. However, for "progressives" like Bernie, it is much more fun to protest against religious "settlers" than it is to protest against the court which is made up of people from their own class and ideology. No one would come to demonstrations held against the court, and since the goal of these protests is political (against "Judaizing Jerusalem") and not for "justice" (since Bernie has no intention of returning the Arab house in west Jerusalem he admits he lives in to its former owners) the organizers have to draw people by promising to go against the "settlers" who are much easier to demonize in the "progressive" camp.

Y. Ben-David said...

(1) Take the sentence
of Abbas' that you quoted:

"there will never be a peace agreement without East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. Never."

Now subject it to logical analysis. Does it mean that if Israel DOES hand over east Jerusalem to him that there will be peace? NO! What did he say about the Palestinian "right of return"? I have not heard his speech, but none of the press reports I read mentioned it. The only big "concession" he made that I am aware of is that he "recognizes that Jews have lived in the country in the past".
Aaron David Miller wrote an article saying people shouldn't view Abbas' propaganda as indicating that he really intends to sign a peace agreement. His goal in these meetings was to keep Obama happy and the US dollars flowing into his bank accounts, not to "make peace".

Bernard Avishai said...

Just to be clear, Dennis. The court is working within the narrow constraints imposed on it by legislative decisions made at the outset of the occupation. As Avner writes, the real problem is the asymmetrical application of law: Israel's post-1948 confiscations of Arab property in West Jerusalem are held to be legal under the Abandoned Properties Act, while Jordan's confiscations of Jewish property, under its Enemy Properties Act, are not. (Actually, and more cynically, Jordanian confiscated property was deemed Jordanian state land, and when Israel conquered the West Bank, it said, hey we are now the state, so state land is ours.) In that context, the court was asked to determine if the 1880 Ottoman era claim of the Sephardi Jewish leaseholder could be thought binding, and decided that it could. But all the deeds of Arab owners in Baqa, etc., are never brought to the judiciary at all. Regarding the right to protest, the court is working within a different frame: the Law of Human Dignity, which protects assembly; and it has behaved very responsibly.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David:

To Dennis you say the goal of these demonstrations are political:

(against "Judaizing Jerusalem") and not for "justice" (since Bernie has no intention of returning the Arab house in west Jerusalem he admits he lives in to its former owners) the organizers have to draw people by promising to go against the "settlers" who are much easier to demonize in the "progressive" camp.

This makes no sense even within it’s own “logic”: “Judaizing”, MEANS taking land, kicking people out of their long held homes,this PRIOR to a peace agreement. And it is UNJUST. This is land, beyond the ‘67 lines, property, that is by international consensus and law, reserved to be part of a Palestinian state. Settling Israeli’s there essentially because Israel has the power to do so is, and should be to you, UNJUST. If the situation were reversed you would see it maybe… but despite the number of times this has been pointed out it does not sink in. Denial of this does not get rid of it.

Regarding what Abbas said- you should avail yourself of that wide ranging interview, not press accounts of it though you may then say he is a liar or not to be trusted-(or cling to Aaron David Miller to do it for you). Whether I or you believe him is not as important as putting Palestinians to the test.

Offer something close to what can be agreed upon to sign and then come back and say he refused it. And please don’t tell me about generous offers made in the past- you can listen to him on that too. The Israeli side propaganda about that was successful but it does not change the facts nor that this is now and that was then.

He did not say Jerusalem. He said EAST Jerusalem. Israel cannot have a peace deal with Arabs without letting go of East Jerusalem. He was firm. I believe him. It’s just. I can’t say it is not. And Israel cannot have much of a future without ending this conflict.

Regarding the “right of return”-It is being offered, a concession, that BOTH sides will work out at the table how that is construed. Palestinians say that. The Arab initiative says that.

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Dennis said...

Bernie - It does seem like an "asymmetrical application of law". And I think we both agree that the law is wrong and should be changed. But still, the point remains that the Supreme Court (even with its activist reputation) simply applied the law to the facts before it.

So what do you do when you don't like the law? Change it. Last I checked, Israel held itself out as a democracy. Where is the Knesset on this issue? Where is Kadima and Labour?

Finally, I have to admit that I don't have much sympathy for those protesting against law abiding citizens. Where is the post (and protest) against the "asymmetrical application of law"? I'd love to read more about the historical and political context for the laws at issue (that you briefly referenced).

Potter said...

If I may:

Dennis you say:"So what do you do when you don't like the law? Change it. Last I checked, Israel held itself out as a democracy."

You demonstrate. You demonstrate to change the law yes ultimately- but also you demonstrate to call attention to the issue/s - for Kadima, Labor, for all Israelis, Jews, everyone else who cares who should care, who have some sense of justice, conscience, hope for the future, who are affected directly, indirectly. You demonstrate because there are other laws- international laws that apply. You demonstrate at the very least to prove or test if Israel is a democracy...

And if you are prevented from demonstrating, this diminishes the democracy, as we see Iran these days.

Patriots here demonstrated against foreign rule at the Boston Tea Party, against segregation in the US south, against the Viet Nam War. You have people demonstrating all over the world in history ( various revolutions- the French, the American the Russian) because of injustice maintained by the powers that be.

Dennis said...

Potter, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that people should not have the right to demonstrate. I'm simply saying that their aim is off. If Israel's democratic institutions aren't interested in changing the law then maybe that's illustrative of a larger consensus - sure, one that you don't like, but still a consensus nonetheless.

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