Last Friday afternoon, Israeli police arrested 17 Israeli anti-occupation demonstrators who had crossed the Green Line and assembled in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where over the last year three families have been thrown out of homes built for them in the early 1950s by the the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on land allocated by the Jordanian authorities who administered the land following the 1948 war that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel.
Jewish (they may not all be Israeli citizens) settlers immediately moved into those three homes, guarded by their own private security organization — and by the Israeli national police and Border Police. The situation in this area is now very tense, but violence has been astonishingly limited.
There have been some verbal confrontations, but the two sides generally make enormous efforts to ignore each other’s presence.
There seems to be no actual threat to the Jewish settlers, other than legal challenges by the Palestinians, and now the protests organized by a new coalition of Israeli activists.
Israeli anti-occupation demonstrators have begun holding Friday afternoon protests there, on a weekly basis over the past several months, in support of the threatened Palestinian families. Last Friday’s arrests may have marked a turning point.
Here is a photo of Didi Remez (from his Facebook site) at the 15 January protest demonstration organized by Israeli anti-occupation activists in solidarity with threatened Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. In this now-iconic image, Didi Remez is objecting to the arrests made by the Israeli police, and telling them to “Arrest me, too!”. The police complied – he was arrested.
After all the commotion, a bigger demonstration is expected today.
UPDATE: Here is a photo of the start of today’s demonstration just tweeted by CNN’s Kevin Flower
After last Friday’s arrests, in which the head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Hagai Elad, was among those taken into custody when he simply approached police to attempt to mediate, the demonstrators spent over 36 hours in jail during the Israeli weekend and the Jewish sabbath, before an Israeli judge ruled that the arrests were not warranted.
This Friday demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah has now become the talk of the town — and of elsewhere in the region.
One of the organizers of the weekly Friday Israeli anti-occupation demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, Didi Remez, has posted a notice about today’s demonstration, saying that “Police have refused to grant license for [this] Friday procession; refusing to provide reasons. The vigil, unequivocally ruled legal and not requiring licence by Jerusalem Justice of the Peace, will take place at 15:00, as usual. Police, however, have warned organizers that, ruling or no ruling, they will forcibly break up the demonstration”.
Didi Remez was one of those arrested last Friday. He was also reportedly one of the first of some 20 demonstrators arrested today.
Another photo of the Didi Remez at the Friday 15 January 2010 demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.
UPDATE: True to their word, the Israeli police broke up the demonstration. They arrested some 20 Israeli demonstrators, including veteran Israeli politician Yossi Sarid, who told the Ynet website that the arrests were “arbitrary and unruly”. Sarid also said: “I have been following the developments here for the past few months and I have read about what the police did over the past week. I became nauseous and wanted to vomit.” YNet reported that former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg and Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh also participated in the demonstration, and that protesters “waved signs reading, ‘Free Sheikh Jarrah’ and chanted, ‘Cowardly settlers, leave the homes at once’. The YNet story can be read in full here.
UPDATE: Ben Lynfield has just reported in The Scotsman that “Yehuda Shaul, an activist in the former soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence was dragged away after he led the crowd in a chant of ‘democracy is not built by evicting people from their houses’.” Ben’s article can be read in full here.