Saturday night’s protest rally in Sheikh Jarrah was the crowning moment for a grassroots movement that has grown from a handful of foreign activists to throngs of Israelis and Palestinians in mere months.
Last fall, demonstrations against the home evictions of Palestinian families in the northeast Jerusalem neighborhood drew dozens of protesters. On Saturday night, nearly 3,000 people showed up.
Saturday night’s rally also included elements new to the scene, carrying large, bright red communist flag with the hammer and sickle in white, and Fatah flags, with two hands grasping machine guns over a green image of Israel.
Perhaps the most noticeable development of the evening, however, came with the words of Samieh Jabarin, a Palestinian director and playwright who, speaking from a stage, criticized audience members who had brought blue-and-white flags with the word “peace” written on them.
“The word ‘peace’ cannot go on that flag,” Jabarin said.
For Palestinians, he explained, the colors blue and white symbolized their plight, not peace. They symbolized the occupation, and Zionism, which is what he said Saturday night’s rally was really about.
The situation in Sheikh Jarrah was but a symptom of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the answer to which, Jabarin told the crowd, was a one-state solution.
While his comments drew applause, they were immediately followed by a correction from organizers, who took the stage and explained that everyone was welcome at the rally, and that all viewpoints were to be respected.
But did Jabarin’s comments and the appearance of the flags also mark a departure from the mainstream protests toward something more radical? Have the Sheikh Jarrah protests, which have galvanized the Israeli Left over recent months, become too Left?
“Absolutely not,” Avner Inbar, one of the rally’s organizers, told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. “I think we’re just Left enough.”
“I think that [Jabarin’s] comments did make some people feel uncomfortable,” Inbar said. “However, the thing that has made the Sheikh Jarrah protests so successful, is the willingness of various groups to come together and take on this single issue.”
Inbar acknowledged that Jabarin’s comments did not reflect such a unity, but repeated what Jabarin himself had said during the rally – that he had witnessed the wounding of a Palestinian child the day before during a rally in Nebi Salih, 20 km. northwest of Ramallah, and was angry.
“This is also a man who was until recently under house arrest for nine months without charges,” Inbar said. “Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to have him speak in such a state, but what I think is really unfortunate, is that the Israeli media has focused on this part of the rally and blurred the real issue here, which are the families affected by the evictions.”
Part of that focus, Inbar said, was a radio show broadcast on Sunday morning featuring MK Arye Eldad (National Union), who slammed the rally and its participants.
In a conversation with the Post
later on Sunday, Eldad expanded on his views on the rally, saying “the Israeli Left has now taken off its mask and shown that it is subservient to the Arabs’ cause, which is to rid Israel of Jews.
“I saw them marching towards the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik carrying Fatah flags,” Eldad said. “So for the groups that were there last night, like Peace Now, who have said in the past that they are Zionists, this is no longer true.
“Today it’s clear – and I’m glad about this fact – the Israeli left wing has become radicalized and is now basically a wing of the Palestinian national movement. What they were doing on Saturday night is no different than the anti-Israel activity that goes on in Wadi Ara or the Arab villages in the Galilee,” he said.
Some rejected Eldad’s comments out of hand, saying that Jabarin’s comments, for example, had “been an exception” and were “not part of the consensus.”
Didi Remez, an activist at the rally, said “nothing has changed since
the protests began, except that more people are starting to show up
and, if anything, these people are more moderate.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “these rallies should and will
continue to be open to anyone. And while one person’s comments might be
used as fodder by others, the facts prove differently.
“This is a mainstream movement about a very specific cause. And very specific values,” Remez said.