Waving Palestinian flags and yelling “Free Sheikh Jarrah!” thousands of left-wing activists and Palestinians gathered in Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday night, in what turned out to be the largest such demonstration against home evictions in the northeast Jerusalem neighborhood to date.
The majority of the demonstration, which had been the subject of a Thursday supreme court ruling, was held in a soccer field opposite the section of the neighborhood where the homes in question are located.
Speaking from a stage, Palestinian and Israeli activists called on the protesters to continue their campaign against the state of affairs in the neighborhood.
Two families – the Gawis and Hanouns – were evicted from homes in Sheikh Jarrah in August after lengthy court battles in which the judges found Jewish claimants owned the properties. Jewish families have now moved into those homes.
The neighborhood, which includes the tomb of the Mishnaic sage Shimon Hatzadik, was a Jewish enclave until 1948, when the last Jewish residents fled during the War of Independence ahead of the Jordanian Army.
Under the Jordanian Enemy Property Law and with the cooperation of the UN, 28 Palestinian families who had fled their homes during the war were resettled in Sheikh Jarrah in 1956 and are now embroiled in court cases regarding homes there.
Demonstrators on Saturday night said the court’s ruling in favor of the Jewish claimants was “discriminatory,” and that they had come to protest such actions.
“It’s outright discrimination, there’s no other name for it,” said Tamar, who arrived from the Beit Hakerem neighborhood to take part in the demonstration.
“We are supposedly living in a democratic country, but the law is being applied unequally. I imagine if the idea of returning to homes from pre-1948 were followed through equally, there would be Palestinians, perhaps even some who are here tonight, who would return to their [previous] homes in west Jerusalem,” she said.
Muhammad Amouri, who told The Jerusalem Post he had come from the east Jerusalem Shuafat neighborhood for the protest, said he was glad to see Israelis taking part in the rally.
“This is the way it should be,” Amouri said. “This shows the other mindset of Israelis, and not the one shown by the government or the settlers. Finally these people are starting to understand what Arabs in east Jerusalem have been feeling for decades.”
One woman, who declined to give her name, told the Post she had come from London – not for the demonstration specifically, but to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground.
“Honestly, it makes it hard to stand up for Israel when things like this are happening,” she said of the home evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
“I had heard about Sheikh Jarrah previously, and I believe that this is a great injustice. These people were already refugees. They were put here by the UN, and now they’ve become refugees all over again.”
As the rally in the soccer field concluded, police allowed 300 protesters – as the High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday – to march toward the disputed homes on Othman bin Afan Street carrying signs and yelling slogans.
While the heavy police presence prevented any violence from taking
place, hundreds of right-wing counterprotesters amassed near the tomb
of Shimon Hatzadik and could be heard yelling slogans back at the
The rally then began to dissipate slowly,
although verbal altercations between the two sides erupted on Nablus
Road as the protesters were leaving.
Later, police reported that Arab youths had thrown rocks at the
right-wing protesters during the rally, although no arrests were made.
Additionally, police said a minor scuffle had broken out between Arab
and Jewish residents of the neighborhood after the rally. No injuries
or arrests were reported.