By Sara Benninga
I am a Jerusalemite, and have been involved in the struggle to free Sheikh-Jarrah. Sheikh-Jarrah is a neighborhood in East-Jerusalem, beyond the ‘67 lines. Until recently it was a Palestinian neighborhood. Palestinian refugees from the ‘48 war, who owned property in Israel (Jaffa, Zriffin, and in several neighborhoods of West-Jerusalem such as Talbiya and Katamon) were settled there, then a mostly empty plot, by the Jordanian government and UNRWA. The Palestinians who are protesting with us have been living in houses built by their grandparents in the 50’s.
During the 70’s a Jewish organization claimed ownership of the land of many of the houses in Sheikh-Jarrah, saying that Jews had owned this land before 48’. The Israeli law recognizes Jewish property claims from before 48’, it does no such thing for Palestinians claims.This first Jewish organization sold “their” rights to a different Jewish settler organization, which are now “reclaiming” the houses of Sheikh-Jarrah (there are many juridical problems with this reclamation, including problematic documentation) . Four families have already been evicted from their houses, and now live on the sidewalks near their former houses, while young Jewish settlers move in. The next evictions are in line, the final plan being to take over 28 houses, build 200 units for Jews only, and turn Sheikh-Jarrah into a Jewish neighborhood.
This situation has brought about a weekly protest which is growing from week to week, comprising both Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinian. We have been demonstrating every Friday for the past few months. The police and higher Israeli officials do not like our protest, and have tried to crush it by arresting more than 100 protestors over the past months, many of them being held in jail over the weekend and having indictments filed against them. I myself have been arrested twice, and have two such indictments. The violence used by the police to disperse the demonstrations is far beyond proportion, seeing as we are committed to a non-violent struggle. A struggle for justice.
Saturday, March 6th, we held a large demonstration. Between 3000 and 5000 people attended, both Arab and Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian. It was amazing to see such a huge crowd of people who came together, for the first time in many years, to protest injustice and support a joint struggle for justice, freedom and peace. In Israel’s ongoing state of occupation people have become indifferent and apathetic to the reality we live in. Daily injustices are being committed, but as a Jew it is easy enough to lead a normal life and ignore what is being done in our name. This evening it became clear that at least a few are ready to say “enough”, “no more”.
Sheikh-Jarrah is in a way a microcosm of the occupation’s modus operandi. It starts with one house being taken over by settlers and soon enough there are groups of settlers roaming through a once Palestinian neighborhood, making racist remarks and creating violence and hate. They are supported by the government and by the municipality. The courage to stand up to this institutionalized occupation which keeps eating away at Israeli society is what we need. Saturday night proved that there are some who have this courage, but we will need many more if we want to change life here. The excitement of seeing so many on Saturday spurs the hope that perhaps there is a way out of the horrible state we have come to. Perhaps there is hope to end injustice and create a just and equal society for both Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis.
Sara Benninga was born in 1982 in Jerusalem. She has an M.A. in art history from the Hebrew University. She is currently an art student, teaching art history, and active with Ta’ayush. She gave the speech representing Israeli activists at the large Sheikh Jarrah demonstration.