For the first time in several months, left-wing protesters will be allowed to demonstrate this weekend on Othman Road, which leads into the Shimon Hatzadik section of Sheikh Jarrah in northeast Jerusalem, where four Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in August, the High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.
The demonstration is scheduled to take place on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.
The ruling came on a petition filed by one of the activists, Assaf Sharon, who was joined by Palestinian residents of the neighborhood and former MKs Yossi Sarid, Avraham Burg and Mossi Raz.
Sharon petitioned the court after the police refused a permit for the demonstration, which was to include up to 3,000 protesters and was due to be held on Othman Road, which runs perpendicular to Nablus Road and is the access road to the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood.
Protesters have been holding demonstrations every Friday afternoon for six months against the eviction of the families. At first, police allowed them to walk along Othman Road. However, in the past few months, they have rarely been allowed to cross Nablus Road and have been confined to a small park on the other side of the street, out of sight of Shimon Hatzadik.
These demonstrations have also led to clashes between the protesters and the police and many demonstrators have been detained and even remanded in custody.
In general, the protesters have not asked for police permits for their demonstrations because they do not include political speeches.
The protests have heightened tensions between the police and civil rights groups who say the police are using unwarranted force to suppress the demonstrations for political reasons. In the most controversial case so far, police arrested Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and held him in jail for 24 hours.
This time, however, the protesters wanted to hold a larger demonstration, encompassing some 3,000 protesters, where speeches would be made. Furthermore, they wanted to hold it directly in front of the Shimon Hatzadik area, where they could make contact with the Palestinian residents. Therefore, they asked for a permit.
The police refused point blank. They insisted that the protesters gather in a basketball court on the opposite side of Nablus Road, near a small park where they usually gather.
During the hearing before Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justices Hanan Meltzer and Uzi Fogelman, the justices were highly critical of the police for refusing to reach a compromise agreement with the demonstrators.
“You can allow less than 3,000 if you want,” Beinisch told the state’s representative. “But why are the police completely opposed?”
The state’s representative, attorney Uri Kedar, replied that “the Sheikh Jarrah area arouses a great deal of tension because Jewish families moved into the area legally. Every time the demonstrators cross Nablus Road, there are disturbances.”
He added that the open field where the protesters wanted to hold the demonstration “is not suitable. It is strewn with boulders and remnants of containers and old fences. It isn’t safe.”
But the judges rejected the blanket refusal of the police. “Maybe the protest could be held with fewer people, at some other time,” said Beinisch.
“The protesters are asking for much more,” said Fogelman. “There are various alternatives. In these cases, it is always a matter of sitting down and talking.”
In fact, the court ordered a recess in the hearing and ordered the sides to talk to each other. But they could not reach an agreement.
The court then ordered Jerusalem District Police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco to come to the hearing. Kedar had quoted Franco as warning that if the demonstrators were allowed to enter Othman Road, it would “almost certainly lead to disturbances.” The justices wanted to hear him explain his position.
“For almost six months now, Sheikh Jarrah has been one of the most explosive places in Jerusalem,” he told them. “Not a day goes by without confrontations. Without rock-throwing. We are there every day.”
Beinisch was sympathetic but unyielding.
“There is no doubt that the police burden in Jerusalem, with its diverse and complex population, is heavy. However, the police are obliged to take all reasonable measures available to it to protect the participants in meetings and protests. Reality in Jerusalem is hard on the police. But it has to cope with it,” she said.
The court ruled that it would partially grant the request of the
demonstrators, in that it would allow 300 of them to cross Nablus Road
and walk part way along it to demonstrate for half an hour. They would
then return to the other side of the road.
Sharon told The Jerusalem Post
afterwards that he was pleased with the decision.
“The court accepted our arguments,” he said, adding that he understood
that it could only grant part of the petitioners’ request because of
the heavy pressure exerted by the police.