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”

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

Israel just releases 17 Israeli human rights activists arrested on Friday in Sheikh Jarrah protest

The new activism by committed Israeli human rights groups who are against the Israeli occupation, and against Israeli injustice to the Palestinians, is impressive.

In the past, the more traditional Israeli protests, by what the Israeli media calls “left-wing” Israelis, usually took place in Tel Aviv or in West Jerusalem.

In the past months, a new coalition of Israeli human rights activists — who have not entered politics — has come to support Palestinians both in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem. Groups of younger activists from groups like Anarchists Against the Wall have been joined by more established and traditional (but no less committed) groups like Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Notable have been the Israeli human rights activism in Sheikh Jarrah, where the first two extended Palestinians were evicted by their homes by Israeli police and Border Police and then almost immediately replaced by young, militant, organized Jewish settlers, at the beginning of August. We have reported on this new form of Israeli — non-violent — activism, and its suppression by Israeli police and Border Police, previously here.

A new tradition has developed [over the past three months] of weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah on Friday afternoon (just before sundown, and the start of Shabbat).

This past Friday, 17 Israeli human rights activists were arrested by the Israeli police and Border Police — including the Executive Director of ACRI, Hagai El-Ad, and reportedly also the head of Rabbis for Human Rights. They were just released today — after spending almost 40 hours (36 hours, they reported later), including all of Shabbat, in jail.

Didi Remez reported on Facebook that “Four of Israel’s leading human rights lawyers defended the group at {befor} the Jerusalem Justice of the Peace, arguing that the dispersion of the protest was part of a campaign to stifle dissent and freedom of speech … Judge ruled arrests were categorically illegal”.

In a separate posting on Facebook, Didi Remez posted a message from ACRI attorney Dan Yakir in which Yakir wrote:
“Like every Friday over the last three months, last Friday, January 15, 2010, there was a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah against Jews moving into the neighborhood.
The police rejected the organizers’ request to march from the Hamashbir L’Tzarchan department store in downtown Jerusalem to Sheikh Jarrah, so 150 protestors held a protest watch in the neighborhood.
Even though this sort of protest does not require a license, within 15 minutes a police officer ordered the demonstrators to disperse and within a short time 17 demonstrators were arrested. One of the detainees was Hagai El-Ad, the Executive Director of ACRI, after he tried to no avail to persuade the officers there was no legal basis for dispersing the demonstration.
On Friday evening ACRI submitted a request to release the detainees, but the request was not heard.
On Saturday night the detainees were brought to the Magistrate Court and the police asked to release them on the following conditions: to require them to report for investigation, to pose NIS 5000 in bail and to stay out of Sheikh Jarrah for 60 days.
Lawyers Lea Tsemel and Tamar Peleg Sarik from Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Michael Sfard of Yesh Din and Dan Yakir of ACRI represented the detainees. After a two-hour hearing, in the early morning Judge Eilata Ziskind accepted our arguments that it was a demonstration that did not require a license, that there was no basis to disperse it and that the police had not substantiated the argument that there was a danger of disturbing the public order“.

A spokesperson for ACRI later told the Jerusalem Post that the organization “had not initiated the demonstration, but that [Hagai] El-Ad and other members attended it in order to monitor the conduct of Jerusalem police towards the protesters, not to demonstrate against Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah. The spokesperson said ACRI had received complaints about police conduct during protests for months before Friday’s arrests. On Friday, when El-Ad approached officers to complain about the arrest of protesters, he was himself detained, the spokesperson said, adding that it was the first time a member of ACRI had ever been arrested at a protest. On Sunday, El-Ad told The Post that he attended the rally as part of ACRI’s ‘efforts to protect freedom of speech’, adding that although the organization was not behind the vigil, on a personal level he sympathized with its organizers, calling what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah ‘a moral outrage’. El-Ad said that he believes the police arrested him because they thought he was one of the organizers of the protest, because he had approached them to tell them that their efforts to silence the vigil were illegal. El-Ad said he believes his arrest is merely part of the ongoing efforts on the part of police to intimidate protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, citing the over 70 demonstrators who have been arrested there in recent weeks … Following the arrests, Jerusalem police said that the demonstration was led by ‘anarchists and leftists’ who did not follow police orders and that if they continued to take part in illegal protests, they should expect to be arrested.” This article was published here.

UPDATE: A Haaretz editorial on the following day (Monday 18 January) said that “The arrest of 17 civil rights activists demonstrating in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday and their detention by the police overnight represents another stage in the Israel Police’s get-tough attitude and willingness to infringe on freedom of demonstration, protest and speech in this country. The right to demonstrate is an important component of freedom of expression, and something which Israeli courts have enshrined as a ‘supreme right’. The detainees, who included the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Elad, endangered no one and broke no law; their arrest was therefore nothing less than false arrest. Moreover, the police’s claim that the protesters had no license to demonstrate was rejected by a court, which declared that a protest vigil does not require a permit and there was no reason to disperse it or arrest the protesters. The only conclusion is that the police have decided to wage war on the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and use force to end the protests, something they have neither the right nor authority to do … It’s the police’s duty to preserve order at demonstrations and no more, unless there is a reason to disperse protesters. But by no means should they prevent demonstrations from taking place. The arrest of the protesters for no reason creates the suspicion that the police have had enough of these demonstrations. It also shows that the police discriminate between demonstrators from the right and left. While right-wing activists run amok in the West Bank to protest against the construction freeze and are almost never arrested, civil-rights demonstrators are being detained in increasing numbers. The public security minister and police commissioner must stop this dangerous deterioration of their organizations. They must act immediately to closely guard freedom of demonstration and ensure that the police do not do anything to harm it. A society without protests is a sick society, afflicted by lethargy and complacency that breed evil. A police force that falsely arrests peaceful demonstrators is dangerous and harmful to democracy“. This Haaretz editorial, Dangerous Police, was posted here.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an American-Israeli who is one of the founders of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) Organization, was arrested last week during a candlelight solidarity vigil in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, protesting the recent evictions of some 53 UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees whose homes are now occupied by Jewish settlers.

Rabbi Ascherman wrote that “I was arrested there, the 36th person to be arrested since the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (Including 2 women from the RHR staff.) The situation leaves me angry and worried, because we are talking about a serious threat to Israeli democracy. Some of the arrests were ‘justified’, even though we don’t think that the police should have been there evicting families to begin with. However, the only crime of many of those arrested was their inability to accept the injustice done to the El-Kurd, Ghawi and Hanoun families. When I decide to engage in civil disobedience I know that I am likely to get arrested. In certain tense situations, I know that things are likely to get out of control, even if nobody on either side was necessarily planning arrests. However, here the police, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect the rights at the heart of democracy, have in a very calculated way been attempting to cut short and stifle peaceful protest. Under the cover of preserving public order, their goal has been to prevent expressions of solidarity or advocacy for these Palestinian families. The courts are also complicit in this when they reward the police with restraining orders as a condition for release, making it all the more difficult to organize. What happened? The vigil was quiet and there was a heavy police presence. I was helping the police and consulting with them, in order that participants would honor the police request not to block streets. We didn’t want to give the police an excuse for stopping the vigil. After an hour at the Hanoun family’ s house , we wanted to go to the Ghawi home. A police officer told us that we could not walk down the alley taking us to the Ghawi home, and directed us to take another longer route. Neither he nor anybody else said in any fashion that we could not walk along the longer route. At that moment a few officers called me from the other side of the road. I figured that they wanted to talk to me about some detail or other, and began to cross the street. A number of officers quickly surrounded me, some pulling me by the arms and others pushing me from behind. There were regular police, border guards and at least one plains clothes officer. When I asked what was going on and what my status was, I was told that I was detained and that I would be arrested if I didn’t come with them to the police car. When I asked, ‘Why?’, it was clear from their words and their tone that they had been waiting for the opportunity to arrest me. They said that the moment that we had begun to move we were holding an unauthorized march and that I was inciting people to participate in an illegal activity. I laid down on the sidewalk, and told them that I would not resist arrest but would not cooperate. Many tactics were used to draw out my arrest and incarceration for 22.5 hours, and I was given a 7 day restraining order keeping me out of Sheikh Jarakh (The police wanted 30 days, and we would have appealed even the 7 days if we could have received a court date in time.) I won’t go into details regarding the curses and kicks I received from officers (I have lodged a complaint with the Unit for the Investigation of Police), the fact that somehow the rumor was spread among right wing prisoners that I had attacked police officers, etc., because the real story is not about me personally. It should be superfluous to say that the connection between the police account of events and what actually happened was tenuous at best”…
Continue reading Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

Shoafat refugee camp – bursting with life, bursting at the seams

Today I went back to Shoafat Refugee Camp — the only Palestinian refugee camp inside Jerusalem, and inside Israel (excluding the West Bank and Gaza).

It is still part of the “Greater Jerusalem” area that was unilaterally declared by Israel after its conquest in the June 1967 war.

But it is one of the places in “Greater Jerusalem” that Israel has, de facto, unilaterally now decided to sever from Jerusalem, and turn it back to the West Bank, by the construction of The Wall.

There is also an enormous new “terminal” being built at the Jerusalem edge of the camp — nobody has much information, but residents tell me that a Supreme Court decision allowed construction to continue, ruling only that it should be more “aesthetic”.

Speculation is that the size of the “terminal” under construction means that large trucks will be passing through, as well as passenger cars, emergency vehicles, school busses, public transportation — and pedestrians as well. Of course, nobody knows for sure. But, in the warren of narrow streets inside the already over-crowded area, it is hard to imagine a steady stream of huge trucks carrying construction materials getting through, at least not very easily, and without creating a major nuisance.

Now, the Shoafat Refugee Camp, technically part of Greater Jerusalem, is completely, but completely, cut off from Jerusalem by The Wall, and can only be accessed through a horrid and horrible military checkpoint manned by Border Police personnel and private contractors, all carrying big guns.

In the morning rush hour, when employees (mostly men) need to go to work, or when children need to travel to schools outside Shoafat Refugee Camp, the jam of people who must pass through the checkpoints is enormous, and a mess.

Inside the area, there are now tall buildings being built, on almost every inch of land, because there is no more space inside the cramped area. They are building where houses were previously demolished (now that Shoafat Refugee Camp is surrounded by The Wall, the residents figure the Israelis will not bother to come and demolish any more).

Even more astonishing, it seems that people are leaving the Old City of East Jerusalem, because it is too crowded – but where they at least have freedom of movement — and coming to build apartment buildings or to buy one of the newly-created apartments in or just around the Shuafat Refugee Camp.

These people from the Old City who are moving to Shoafat Refugee Camp would still, technically, be living in Jerusalem, at least up until now. But many Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem fear that this will not continue, as long as Israel continues along its present course, without any change in policy. Of course, because this is a situation of occupation (and, more precisely, according to experts in International Law, this is a belligerent military occupation), there is no published information on which people could make decisions about their lives — there are only rumors.

Another factor creating congestion is the fact that people are moving from the nearby village of Anata, in the West Bank, into the “Dahiet as-Salam” that is sandwiched between Shoafat Refugee Camp and Anata. One resident of Dahiet as-Salam said that many West Bankers, even including a number of petty criminals, are moving into his neighborhood in order (1) to be able to claim they are living in Jerusalem because those living in Dahiet as-Salam pay the Jerusalem City Tax, or Arnona, which is one of the requirements to have a “Blue” or Jerusalem ID, and (2) to be able to avoid the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority security and other law enforcement officials. Of course, the Israeli Army and Border Police can go anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (and between Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai) — but, now that The Wall is doing part of their job (or so they believe), they generally stay away these days.

It is a really amazing and disturbing sight — the people inside are full of life, and living lives of quiet joy (thought young men are having a particularly hard time, see below, as are the even younger women they are marrying). From what I saw, many camp residents are there because they are loving their family and friends, and defying what fate has dealt them so far.

Yousef M., who kindly agreed to show me around his community, said that he did not want to leave, because the human solidarity that he finds within the camp does not exist outside.

Yet, tomorrow, there will be an event at the camp’s Women’s Center. Diplomats are expected. Palestinian notables are expected. Many invitees will be there. And they will hear that in a survey of women’s needs, 70% of the respondents said that drug rehabilitation programs are their number one priority. There is a serious drug problem in the camp. It’s not hard to wonder why. The young men are so frustrated, there is no where to go, the future is so uncertain, the injustice is so enormous, and the pressure is so great.

And, residents of Shoafat Refugee Camp report, though drugs most often are coming from the West Bank, drugs sales go on right in front of the Israeli checkpoints, with absolutely no control or interference from the armed Israeli personnel on the spot.

Meanwhile, two Israeli human rights organizations — the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICHAD), and Rabbis for Human Rights — issued a statement today noting that “twenty thousand (20,000) Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem housing 180,000 people currently have demolition orders”

That means that two-thirds of all Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are living in fear that their houses might be demolished.

The joint statement noted that “The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem himself, Yakir Segev, revealed that in 2008 only 18 permits were issued for building in the Palestinian parts of the city, home to some 270,000 Palestinians. It was the Municipality’s policy of granting so few permits that was driving Palestinians to construct illegally. ‘To get a construction permit in East Jerusalem you have to be more than a saint’, said Segev”.

Even more shocking are these figures, particularly the amount of the fines, according to the joint statement: “In 2008 the Municipality demolished 87 Palestinian homes, issued 959 demolition orders and collected $3.6 million/€2.5 million in fines from Palestinians, 70% of whom live below the poverty line“.

The joint statement was issued in response to an announcement, yesterday, that the Jerusalem Municipality is considering a freeze on the demolition of 70% of “the so-called ‘illegal’ Palestinians homes built without a permit”.

The joint statement added that “While we welcome any change of policy that reduces home demolitions, we must protest the continuation of that policy, even if parts of it are ‘frozen’.

The two human rights groups noted that “Freezing the demolition of 70% of them means that 6,000 homes would still be slated for demolition. In fact, the Municipality has indicated that it intends to remove completely those 6,000 homes. It seems to believe that offering compensation will legitimize that action … This is not merely a game of numbers. Lying behind the plan is the intent to leave intact ‘unauthorized’ Palestinian homes in areas of East Jerusalem of little interest to Israel – those on the periphery of the city in particular – while targeting those in areas that Israel wishes to annex. The targeted 30% are therefore in the most politically sensitive areas subject to conflict: the Old City, the Silwan area adjacent to the al-Aqsa mosque (already renamed the ‘City of David’), the Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and other strategic locales … We call on the Jerusalem Municipality and the Government of Israel to end their policy of demolishing Palestinian homes altogether, whether in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza – or inside Israel, where the homes of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel are also targeted”.

"Jerusalem unification" day – but is Jerusalem united?

Today, Israel mark’s “Jerusalem unification” day.

However, According to Gershon Baskin, co-chairman and founder of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) — who ran in the last Knesset elections as a candidate from a green party which did not gain the minimum number of votes for a seat — Jerusalem is one of the most segregated cities on earth.

Demonstration at Damascus Gate - Jerusalem Day 21 May 2009 - Amir Cohen for Reuters

Some 50,000 Israelis of one or the other nationalist tendencies are expected today to make their annual triumphalist entry under heavy police and Border Police guard into the Old City of East Jerusalem via the Damascus Gate, which is used mainly by Palestinians.

Jerusalem Unification Day marks the moment, according to the Jewish calendar, when the Israeli Army first entered the Old City of East Jerusalem during the June 1967 war.  Previously, from the time the British Army evacuated in May 1948, East Jerusalem and the West Bank had been under Jordanian administration.

Three Israeli human rights organizations are joining Palestinian members of various East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents in what they have announced will be “a Jerusalem Day protest demonstration, which is to take place at the same time as the traditional Jerusalem Procession on Thursday, May 21st, 12:00-15:00, near the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City. The demonstration will take place on the same day of the Jerusalem Day Procession, which marks 42 years to the ‘unification of the city’, in order to send out a clear message: The city is not united. East Jerusalem had been annexed by Israel against the will of its residents, who have since been suffering discrimination, neglect and abuse in all walks of life. We will protest and demand they be allowed to live in dignity and peace in their hometown“.

According to the announcement, “The demonstration is organized by East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Shomrei Mishpat – Rabbis for Human Rights, and The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions”, known as ICHAD.

A lawyer for ACRI told journalists this week that the proper and required permits have been granted by the Israeli police, but she said she was not sure how many Palestinian East Jerusalemites would participate in the end — not only because of the potential for violent flare-ups, but also because they fear reprisal in the weeks and months ahead, at home, in their neighborhoods of what is (or, because of route of The Wall, which has cut them off from the city and exiled them to a no-man’s land in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank) what was East Jerusalem.

But they did come – about 400 Palestinians, participating for the first time in one of these Jerusalem Day protest demonstrations, and about 100 to 150 Israeli Jews.

Tali Nir, a lawyer for ACRI who participated in the demonstration, said that the Border Police were upset when they say a lot of Palestinian flags flying, “and they asked us not to do it, so we took some down”, to cool the situation, she said.  But they did not remove all the Palestinian flags, because the Israeli Supreme Court has recently ruled that Palestinian flags could be waved during demonstrations.

Rabbi Arik Aschermann of Rabbis for Human Rights was very satisfied by the Palestinian participation.  “For 14 years we’ve been saying it’s a pity they don’t come”, he said, “but now they are here.  Yes, it’s good”.  He attributed the previous non-participation to internal fighting between different Palestinian agendas as much as to fears of violence and/or Israeli reprisals.

One of the signs held up by a young Palestinian participant read: “Number of residents per trash cans: (Palestinian) East Jerusalem = 760, (Israeli) West Jerusalem = 291“.

A group of young Israeli men gathered in front of the demonstrators and did their own rousing chant, before heading through the Damascus Gate into the Old City, where they immediately quited down.  They were headed across the Old City to the other side, where the Western Wall stands.  A few Border Police soldiers in olive green uniforms and carrying large black weapons followed them, but did not provide a close escort.

The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch made separate appearances, and spoke in Arabic to Palestinian journalists.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a Jerusalemite who was until recently the advisor of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who this week has become (he has been sworn in as) the newly-appointed PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs in the new Palestinian government, was also at the demonstration. He said that he was working on a new strategy, despite the Israeli prohibition against PA activity in the city: “We want to make something to support our people, to end house demolitions, to face the high Jerusalem taxes.  We are developing a plan to try to make the life of our citizens better …. We hope to open other institutions in East Jerusalem by working with some NGOs who have permission, in the fields of women, children, culture, education and law.  We are facing a very big problem of building without permits, and we need lawyers and engineers to help make a [zoning or development] plan so that we can try to solve this problem”.

Photos of joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration at Damascus Gate for Jerusalem Unification Day

courtesy of ACRI

Palestinian school girs at Jerusalem Day demonstration - Photo courtesy of ACRI

Jewish groups demonstrate at Damascus Gate on Jerusalem Unification Day - photo courtesy of ACRI

Jerusalem Day demonstration at Damascus Gate - photo courtesy of ACRI

This “Jerusalem Unification Day” was the first time that these groups made a collective public appearance, working together.