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 had seen in the
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
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 had 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."
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 (ACRI) 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 protesters, 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 protesters "you people are Nazis," a refrain
that was greeted by cheers from the crowd.
Police were heavily outnumbered by protesters 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.
Protesters 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 protesters, 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 protesters 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 protesters and intermittently pushing them
across the street to the traffic island. Within an hour, police had
dispersed the remaining protesters and journalists out of the
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 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, El-Ad 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, the ACRI head 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," El-Ad 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."