It's Friday – protests in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem + West Bank

Today is Friday. Palestinian television will normally be show the Friday prayers from Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, located in the Old City of East Jerusalem, but this Friday Palestinian TV will broadcast live from Burrin, a village in the northern West Bank, near Nablus, where a mosque under construction, the Suliman al-Pharisee Mosque, was served a demolition order, just five days ago — last Sunday, the day on which the Palestinian presidential and legislative elections were supposed to have been held, before they were postponed.  The mosque has been entirely built (on Burrin land classified as Arab B), and it’s all finished, except for the minaret…

And, at 3:00 in the afternoon, as they have for nearly four months, a new and growing coalition of Israeli anti-occupation activists will meet to demonstrate their opposition to Jewish settlers replacing Palestinian families in East Jerusalem homes built for them by the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, in Sheikh Jarrah, in the early 1950s under the Jordanian administration. The police have refused to give the activists a permit. But a judge has ruled on Thursday that no permit is needed, as long as the activists don’t block the streets, or make political speeches.

UPDATE: Here is a photo just posted by Didi Remez on Facebook, showing the Israeli author David Grossman – in center of photo below – attending this week’s protest at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3:00pm – (photo apparently taken by Itamar Broderson). Grossman is one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists, and is also a supporter of the Geneva Initiative between Palestinian and Israeli “civil society”, and bereaved father of an IDF soldier who was killed just hours before the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon.

David Grossman at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3pm this Friday 29 Jan 2010 - via Didi Remez

UPDATE: Bernard Avishai reported later on his blog (here) that Dr. Ron Pundak of the Peres Peace Center, and another supporter of the Geneva Initiative, was also present.

UPDATE: IPCRI’s co-director Gershon Baskin reported via Facebook before sunset that the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration is over — “and no one was arrested this week”.

HOWEVER, in the West Bank, it was different. The IDF spokespersons unit reported via Twitter that:
– “120 rioters, hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Bi’lin, security forces responding w riot dispersal mean”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @Nil’in, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Dir Hidhan N of Ramallah, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”

UPDATE: Palestinian TV this morning showed the Friday prayers in Burrin’s threatened new mosque, which is clean and white and off-white, and sunlight is flowing in through the two levels of windows.  The speaker, with neat close-cropped hair, and beard and mustache, is wearing a suit and tie, and occasionally refers to notes written on small sheets of white paper.  He made a prayer for protection from “the Jews”, the usual short-hand terminology employed here to refer to Israeli military forces.  The faithful, all male as far as I can see, are almost all sitting on the carpeting on the floor where they had just prayed, wearing winter jackets and sweaters of economical quality in modest and sober (drab, really) colors ranging from brown through all the shades of grey to the occasional black garment (just spotted one pre-teen child wearing a fuschia fleece zip jacket, and then a younger one in a red sweatshirt with a hood  – wow!).  There are a handful of older men wearing kuffiyehs – either all white, or black-and-white checked (now I just spotted one in the middle of the room with red-and-white checks, striking on a man with a white beard, and long grey wool robe).  One middle-aged man is sitting (attesting to health or mobility problems) on one of the ubiquitous plastic garden chairs that are used at every event here (I later realize, as he is interviewed after the prayers by Palestinian TV reporter on the spot, that he is Ghassan as-Shaka’a, mayor or ex-mayor of Nablus).  So far, I have not spotted any prominent political personalities… Then, they perform the major Friday collective prayer, ending with turning one’s head to one side, then to the other, and expressing the greeting for peace.  The men are absorbed in their prayers.   Will this worship now make it more difficult to demolish the mosque?  After the prayers end, and as the worshippers are standing up to leave, the Palestinian Authority Minister of  Awaqf (Islamic Trusts), Mahmoud Habbash, wearing a suit and tie and overcoat, starts to make a political speech, and most but not all of the worshippers sit back down.   “Today, this mosque is under threat.  Before that, it was the mosque at Yasuf (which was attacked).  And before that, it was Al-Aqsa Mosque… “.  He speaks of terror, and fear…and the occupation.  There are more children visible in the room, probably because some of the adults have left.  “Al-Quds (East Jerusalem) is the capital of our future state“, he says, “the future capitalThere will be no peace with the occupation, no peace with settlers, no peace with settlements, no peace with The Wall — and no peace without Al-Quds (East Jerusalem)”.  The PA Minister adds, as an afterhought, a word of support for the mosque in Burrin…  (After the prayers, PA Minister of Awqaf, then PA Minister Maher al-Ghaneim is also interviewed on Palestinian Television.

[I have been informed that, for balance, and to show a more comprehensive view of Palestinian culture and society, Palestinian TV is now also broadcasting from different churches in the West Bank — so far, I think, not from East Jerusalem — every Sunday.]

Palestinian TV then breaks for coverage of the regular Friday demonstration against The Wall organized by Palestinian residents of Bil’in, south of Nablus, and just west of Ramallah.  For five years, the demonstrators have had the support of a small group of devoted internationals (one of them, possibly Jody McIntyre, can now seen at the front line in his wheel chair) and a few Israelis.  The weather is sunny and warm, and it looks like a spring day rather than the middle of winter.  Just across the road that marks the route of The Wall in this area (where it takes the form of a fence, with barbed wire coils and security cameras), can be seen assembled Israeli forces and army jeeps.  They are wearing helmets and carrying guns, but looked relaxed.  I wonder if they are aware that they are being seen on live television?   The justification for the military violence against the demonstrations is that they damage and pose a threat to The Wall, and of course to the soldiers who have come to confront the demonstrators.  On Thursday, at 2am, Israeli forces raided the village, and entered the home of Muhammad Khatib – one of the leaders of the Bil’in demonstrations — taking him away under arrest.  The soldiers returned a short time later, in the hours before dawn, waking up the rest of the young family to do a search, and confiscate a mobile phone and court documents. The Israeli YNet website reported that Muhammad Khatib was arrested “just hours after telling Ynet, ‘We are on the eve of an intifada’ … Left-wing [sic – in Israel, that means someone against the occupation] activist Yonatan Pollak said he believed Khatib was arrested due to the interview with Ynet”. This was published on YNet here.

His young daughters are offered a chance to say hello to their father via a live interview broadcast on Palestinian television. Relatives of Abdallah Au Rahmeh, and other Bil’in residents who are also in Israeli prison, also speak.

The TV camera pans to the road, where Israeli troops are now standing, right up against the gate on the “Palestinian” side (both sides are actually “Palestinian”, and the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Israeli military to redraw the route of The Wall in this area so as to return some of the Bil’in village land — but the court order has not yet been implemented by the army.  The Israeli soldiers have just fired tear gas — white clouds of tear gas are clearly visible, encircling even the soldiers (are they wearing gas masks or other forms of protection?).  Demonstrators are walking back up the road, making an orderly retreat away from the tear gas.  One surprise: Fatah figure, Sultan Abu Einein, who has recently apparently been allowed  by Israel to relocate to Ramallah from Lebanon (where he was the leading Fatah figure for many years) after winning a seat on the Fatah Central Council in an election held last August in Bethlehem ), then addresses the camera, after wiping his nose after being affected by the tear gas… Then, the tear gas affects the whole group, including the Palestinian TV correspondent conducting the interview, but they continue… A Fatah flag behind him is replaced by Palestinian flags.  (Last week, senior Fatah figure Nabil Sha’ath, former PA Minister, was injured by tear gas exposure  in Bil’in…)  More white clouds of freshly-fired teargas are seen at the gate… Then Israeli soldiers are walking (calmly, so far) up the road on the “Palestinian” side, behind retreating photographers and journalists, all the way up to the TV mobile van, and beyond.

There seems to be some tension, now, in Burrin as well, shown on a split screen on Palestinian TV, as Palestinian men stand in nervous clusters on a road outside the mosque.  There seem to be some (unarmed) Palestinian police and other uniformed security forces standing around in the group.

And, just before 3:00pm, the ranks of the Israeli anti-occupation activists began to swell with more who oppose police repression of the Friday demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah as much, if not more than, they oppose Jewish settlers replacing Palestinian families in East Jerusalem homes built for them by the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, in Sheikh Jarrah, in the early 1950s under the Jordanian administration. The police have refused to give the activists a permit. But a judge has ruled on Thursday that no permit is needed, as long as the activists don’t block the streets, or make political speeches. However, the police say they will break the demonstration up at 3:30 pm, regardless (Shabbat will start about two hours after that). And militant group of settlers say they will be there, too — without asking for permits, either.  Two weeks ago, police arrested 17 Israeli activists — including Hagai Elad, head of the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel — and kept them in prison in Jerusalem for 36 hours, over Shabbat.  Last week, 21 Israeli activists were arrested.  And intensified confrontation is feared this Friday.

According to a report published after the ruling on YNet, “In his ruling, the judge wrote, ‘Because freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are basic rights, the police must protect those who assemble from others and not declare their gathering as illegal because they fear retaliation from others’. The judge ruled that ‘a gathering of 50 people or over is illegal only if it is intended as a platform to carry a speech or a lecture on a topic with a political nature, or in order to discuss such topic. As long as the gathering does not aim to do so, a permit is not required’. Despite the favorable ruling, the judge criticized the protestors’ conduct and their decision to block the main road and try to prevent worshippers from passing through. ‘Although all the worshippers managed to pass through, they needed to get through a mass of people who were trying to block their way,” he said. [N.B. – The worshippers may include the Jewish settlers who have moved into the houses from which Palestinians have been evicted, but they are mainly Orthodox Jews, many of whom live in Mea Shearim and other areas across Road One which is built, there, exactly where the Green Line was until it was overrun by victorious Israeli military in the June 1967 war…] The judge also noted that according to eyewitness accounts, the protestors yelled at worshippers and even spat at one of them. From that moment on, the judge said, the gathering became illegal and therefore the arrests made afterwards were legitimate”. This YNet report is published here.

[UPDATE: A somewhat different version of this story – with a different explanation of the moment when last Friday’s gathering became illegal – was published in the Jerusalem Post, which reported this: “The police had asked the court to remand the suspects in custody until the end of proceedings but agreed to set them free on condition that they stay away from the protest area. An estimated 300 demonstrators gathered last week to protest the court-ordered takeover by Jews of homes they own in the Shimon Hatzadik compound in Sheikh Jarrah, in which Palestinian families have lived for 60 years. After giving the demonstrators about 40 minutes to chant protests against the eviction of the Palestinians, the police declared that the gathering was illegal and ordered the demonstrators to disperse. Protest leaders convinced Lt.-Cmdr. Bruno Stein to give them another 15 minutes. However, instead of remaining where they were for 15 minutes, the protesters rushed across Nablus Road, a major north-south artery, and some headed towards the gate leading into the Shimon Hatzadik area. The protest continued and police detained, and later indicted, 18 of the demonstrators. In his ruling, Ehrenberg rejected the police claim that the original protest had been illegal. According to police ordinances, a gathering is illegal only if it includes more than 50 people, is held outdoors and involves making a political speech. The police maintained that protest leaders had written their chants on paper, thus making them the equivalent of political speeches. But Ehrenberg rejected that argument. However, the judge went on to say that once the protesters had gone back on their agreement to disperse and crossed Nablus Road, the protest became illegal. Ehrenberg said that there were less drastic ways to decrease the danger the protesters posed of causing more disturbances than putting them in jail. He ruled that they could remain free, but must not participate in illegal gatherings like the one that developed after the protesters had crossed Nablus Road. If they ignored the condition, their freedom would be restricted, he said“. This JPost report is published here.]

The demonstration organizers seem to have denied that there was any interference or attack upon the worshippers, who were travelling to what is believed to be the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Just), a High Priest who served in the Second Jewish Temple. This tomb is also sacred to Muslims. Jewish settlers plan to take over some 28 homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, surrounding the tomb, and eventually demolish them to construct a large new housing project for at least 200 (and maybe more than 500) Jewish families.

The site of the Jewish Temple has not yet been precisely located, but it is thought to have been on the same mosque plateau where Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock now stand, in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) is one of the organisations who have been “working to bring the violations occurring in East Jerusalem to the attention of the world”, as their website states. The head of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Asherman, has been arrested in at least one of the Friday demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah (as he was earlier arrested in another area of East Jerusalem last year; he has also been assaulted by Israeli settlers — and the soldiers protecting them — while he was participating in annual West Bank olive harvests). The RHR website reports Rabbi Asherman as saying: “I see Jerusalem in flames, and know than my words will not succeed in conveying the horror of what I see or the dread in my heart…” Though the website (here) says that “the work of the organisation is broad, its current focus is on the situation in East Jerusalem” — and, in particular, “the injustices occurring in Sheikh Jarrah”.

Just wondering: Why do the Israeli activists not demonstrate in the same persistent and highly-publicized way in other areas around the Old City of East Jerusalem, which are under similar threat and where similar injustices occur? Could it be that Sheikh Jarrah is more convenient, more easily accessible, even more secure? Could it be that the issues are slightly different, and less internal, including the fact that the houses from which Palestinians — refugees, as it happens — are being evicted, and replaced by Jewish settlers, were never Jewish-owned buildings, but actually built by UNRWA, under the Jordanian administration between May 1948 and June 1967? (The ownership of the land itself is not so clear. It may have been Jewish-owned, as the Israeli courts seem to have decided, or it may have been land merely rented but not owned by Jews, as a Turkish government-assisted search through the Ottoman archives last year seems to suggest. UNRWA was authorized to build the homes that are now in question, on the land that is also in question, by the Jordanian authorities who administered the site from 15 May 1948 until 4 June 1967. Despite requests from the Palestinians being evicted, the Jordanians did not agree to participate in Israeli court deliberations, or to offer any public clarifications…

A recent BBC Panorama program, Walk in the Park, with Jane Corbin reporting from East Jerusalem, offers a vivid depiction of the situation in and around the various areas of East Jerusalem.

Part One:
Danny Seidemann, an American-Israeli lawyer who founded Ir-Amim (an organization working for a Jerusalem that would be shared equitably between its two peoples and their three monotheistic religions), says “What this is about is creating facts on the ground, implanting ideologically-motivated Israeli settlers in existing Palestinian neighborhoods. Palestinians, on the other hand, are not allowed to return to their [homes], the homes they abandoned in 1948 … You have the territorial encirclement of the Old City by messianically-motivated settlers with a rather exclusionary vision”. Via Youtube here, or:

Part Two:
Danny Seidemann says: “Regrettably, in recent years, the Israeli government has been engaged in a project to incorporate this area into Israel in ways that no Israeli government has done in the past, largely by turning over the most important archeological regligious national sites in this area to exclusionary settler organizations. I consider that to be an act of collossal irresponsibility”. Via Youtube here, or:

Part Three:
Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barakat says that, in a way, he’s “strengthening the city for the benefit of the world”. Danny Seidemann says, however, that “This is the volcanic core of the conflict, and if the conflict will not be resolved here, what begins in the Jerusalem doesn’t stay in Jerusalem. An eruption in Jerusalem over the religious sites, over the national sites here, will send tremors throughout the region that can destabilize regimes from Pakistan through Morocco, and everywhere in between”. Via Youtube here, or:

An article by Ben White about situation in East Jerusalem on a new website, Pulse, here, says that “Israel has three, inter-related strategic goals for East Jerusalem: (1.) To make the claim that Jerusalem is the ‘eternal, undivided Jewish capital’ a physical reality. (2.) [To] Increase the Jewish presence/decrease the Palestinian presence (‘the demographic battle’). (3). [To] Cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank. These are not new, but over two decades – and perhaps especially in the last few years – there has been an acceleration of the tactics being used to realise these goals … In the international ‘peace process’ and associated media reports, Jerusalem is typically presented as a ‘final status’ issue in the negotiations to establish a Palestinian state. [But] Through policies going back 40 years, Israel’s leaders from across the political spectrum have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, Jerusalem’s ‘status’ is already final”.

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