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An informal, grassroots coalition of local human rights groups, including young members of the Israeli Left, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of protesters arriving at the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in recent weeks, local activists told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Their numbers far outweigh those of the international left-wing groups who have been operating there since the summer, the activists said.
"There's been an increased effort to raise awareness among young people and to get them to come to Sheikh Jarrah," S., an activist who has long-been involved in the east Jerusalem neighborhood told the Post on Sunday.
"There's been an increase in e-mails going out, an increase in fliers and posters going up, and people have been going to universities and nightclubs to get the word out," S. added.
In the last two weeks alone, a combined total of more than 500 protesters, the bulk of them young Israelis, have descended on the neighborhood for Friday afternoon protest marches, garnering a gruff response from police and Border Police officers in the area, who have carried out more than 50 arrests over this period.
Moreover, groups like the Committee Against House Demolitions, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Meretz and Hadash political parties have become more involved in protests in the area, joining groups like Rabbis For Human Rights that have been active in the neighborhood for over half a year.
While demonstrations in the neighborhood are nothing new - the August evictions of the Gawi and Hanoun families from homes in the neighborhood spurred a number of smaller demonstrations organized by international groups - the protests of the last two weeks have been large in comparison and conducted mainly in Hebrew, a striking change from the mainly British and American English heard at protests just a month ago.
Additionally, high-profile names have been added to the ranks of those arrested, including, but not limited to, Uri and Gali Agnon, the great-grandchildren of Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon, and the brother of Asaf Avidan, whose band Asaf Avidan and the Mojos has risen to domestic and international fame.
All three were arrested two weeks ago during a demonstration, which turned violent when protesters refused to disperse after security forces ordered them to do so.
Additionally, protesters have leveled claims of police brutality during the demonstrations, along with allegations of unjustified arrests and lengthy detentions.
"But the large numbers of protesters we're seeing are also a result of the police actions," S. said. "The more people that are arrested, the more others get involved. This is a big part of what's going on there now."
Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann of Rabbis for Human Rights, told the Post on Sunday that while no formal meetings of leadership had taken place between the various groups now active in Sheikh Jarrah, there had been "heavy efforts" made to increase participation in the weekly protest marches.
Additionally, Grenimann said that the sight of so many young people taking part in the demonstrations effectively put to rest the notion that the Israeli Left was a victim of the second intifada and now comprised a few aging, Peace Now activists.
"It's really very noticeable," Grenimann said of the new, youthful character of the protests. "We're seeing a lot of young people and they're not all party hacks either. Many of them are students who are simply moved to action by what they see going on in the neighborhood."
The dispute in Sheikh Jarrah centers around 28 properties that are the subject of an ongoing legal battle between Jewish claimants and the Arab families who live there.
A large number of homes in the neighborhood that belonged to Jews before 1948, were seized by the Jordanian government under its Enemy Property Law when Jordan occupied the area from 1948 to 1967.
In 1956, 28 Palestinian families who had been receiving refugee assistance from UNRWA, were selected to benefit from a project in which they forfeited their refugee aid and moved into homes built on "formerly Jewish property leased by the Custodian of Enemy Property to the Ministry of Development."
The agreement stipulated that the homes were to be registered in the families' names - which never happened - and court battles between groups that represent some of the former Jewish homeowners and the current Palestinian residents have been going on, in some cases, since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the evictions of the Gawi and Hanoun families, along with the eviction of the al-Kurd family almost a year prior to that, have been the source of continued tensions in the neighborhood, as the Jews who moved into those homes and left-wing protesters often lock horns.
While the recent upswing in protesters has seen an increase in police activity in the neighborhood, similar, albeit smaller protests that have gone on since August have at times gotten violent.