Twenty arrested at Sheikh Jarrah protest

Sheikh Jarrah - weekly protest, 22 Jan 2010 (Photo: Lisa Goldman)

Sheikh Jarrah weekly protest - Friday, 22 Jan 2010 (Photo: Lisa Goldman)

Note: Image not from the Jerusalem Post

[T]he move to “purge” east Jerusalem of its Arab residents saddens [MK Mohammed Barakeh] not only on a personal level but also because he feels “there is no peace process, no two-state solution without east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.”

Recent Israeli repression of anti-Occupation activities:

By Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post Staff – 22 Jan 2010

Police arrested twenty demonstrators in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday, in a rally that activists said was the largest and most energetic they’d seen in the contested area.

Demonstrators numbered well over three hundred and included Arabs, Jews, tourists, and a multitude of foreign press, in addition to a virtual who’s who of Israel’s left-wing, including former lawmakers Yossi Sarid and Avram Burg.

When a number of protesters attempted to break into Jewish-owned houses, police used riot dispersal means to quell the demonstration. According to security forces, the protesters also tried to attack Jews who were on their way to pray at the grave of Simon the Just. One man was said to be lightly hurt after a left-wing activist hurled a rock at him.

The arrested demonstrators were transferred for questioning as the protest began to die down.

Sarid, a former minister and one-time Meretz party leader, told The Jerusalem Post the rally was the first protest he’d attended since retiring from politics in 2006, saying he came after reading about “what is happening to the [Arab] families in Sheikh Jarrah” and that it was his duty as a citizen to attend the rally.

Israeli Arab MK and Hadash party Chairman Mohammed Barakeh also attended the protest and said the issue of Sheikh Jarrah “is not about a house or family, it’s about the peace process.”

Barakeh added that the move to “purge” east Jerusalem of its Arab residents saddens him not only on a personal level but also because he feels “there is no peace process, no two-state solution without east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.”

Haggai El-Ad, the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and one of 17 arrested in last week’s demonstration called the Sheikh Jarrah protests “the defining free speech issue in Israel in recent years” adding that it represents an issue where “the suffering of Palestinian families and the persecution of Israeli citizens exercising their democratic right to protest converge.”

El-Ad added that he sees police actions against the protesters as “nothing more than political theater.” El-Ad was released last Saturday after 36 hours in custody, when the Jerusalem District Court ruled the arrest of activists was unlawful, even though they were demonstrating without a permit.

Early on, the protest had a rather festive air, with demonstrators blowing whistles, waving signs, and chanting songs, including one with the refrain “Sheikh Jarrah, Jarrah” sung to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera.’ Throughout the first hour of the protest, a young Arab man navigated the crowd with a tray of Turkish coffee, handing out cups to the protestors, journalists, and onlookers, many of them children, who dotted the traffic island across from the police position. At one point, a man drove by slowly and in American-accented English shouted at the protestors “you people are Nazis,” a refrain that was greeted by cheers from the crowd.

Police were heavily outnumbered by protestors and the cadence and atmosphere of the event seemed to be largely dictated by the demonstrators, many of whom came to Sheikh Jarrah for the first time following last Friday’s arrests.

Demonstrators had been told before the protest that police would disperse them at 4pm, and shortly after the hour passed, a wall of border patrolmen and Yassam riot police began to push forward, as a senior police officer with a megaphone ordered the demonstrators to leave, his words drowned out by whistles, jeers, and chanting.

Protestors began to move towards the barricaded entrance to the street in Sheikh Jarrah where two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in August 2009 before Jewish settlers moved in. At this point, police began the first of their arrests, dragging off at least four protestors, including Didi Remez, a human rights activist who was also arrested at last week’s protest.

Activists remained crowded outside the barricade as police continued to bar their entry. On repeated occasions, the police cleared the way to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews, most carrying young children, to pass through to the contested area, as protestors crowded in their faces yelling “thieves!,” “shame!,” and “Thou shalt not steal!”

As the sun went down and the arrests continued, police brought in reinforcements of riot police and border patrolmen, with dozens forming a line in front of protestors and intermittently pushing them across the street to the traffic island. Within an hour, police had dispersed the remaining protestors and journalists out of the neighborhood.

Nassir Ghawe, a Palestinian man who has been living in a tent since his family was evicted from their home in August, watched the rally and the police intervention as he sat atop a wall on the margins of the protest.

Ghawe told The Jerusalem Post that as he watched the protest, what he called the largest he’d ever seen in Sheikh Jarrah he “sees that there is justice among some Israelis, the left-wing,” adding “I hope it [the protests] grows and puts pressure on the government to return us to our homes.”

Earlier Friday, Hagai Elad, executive-director of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), appealed to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz demanding that he order law enforcement authorities to allow freedom of expression in the region and curb the “violence” used against the activists in recent demonstrations there.

In one such demonstration last week, Elad was among 17 left-wing activists arrested for what police said was an illegal gathering.

“The protests carried out in the last few weeks have been peaceful and in keeping with the law,” Elad told Army Radio on Friday. “The only ones who went out of control were the police, who broke the law. It would be better if police knew the law, and that is my hope.”

Authorities continue to maintain that there is no authorization for the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations, and the Jerusalem District Police have stressed that the situation between Jewish and Arab residents of the neighborhood is “particularly explosive.”

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