Today has been declared a Day of Solidarity with Sheikh Jarrah, and activists from all over Israel will protest the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in this East Jerusalem neighborhood. What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of the harmful Israeli policy of building settlements in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhoods located in close proximity to the Old City – a policy which is making it harder and harder to imagine how Jerusalem could ever be divided into the capital of two nations, a necessary component of almost every single proposed plan for peace.
Israeli activists will hold vigils and protests today in the cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Wadi Ara, Beer-Sheva, Kfar Yasif, Gan Shmuel Junction, Tira, Taybe, Raanana, West Jerusalem, and of course, Sheikh Jarrah. They do so in recognition of the harrowing fact that it has been a year since the eviction of the Hanoun and Ghawi families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah on August 2, 2009, and since then, the situation in East Jerusalem has only gotten worse.
Activists protesting today do so with the knowledge that over the past year, there have only been more home demolitions and evictions, more settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, more expansion of existing Israeli neighborhoods, and more planning for new Israeli neighborhoods disguised as expansions of Israeli neighborhoods. It continues to be almost impossible for Jerusalem Palestinians to legally build in their own neighborhoods, which the municipal government has made sure to keep in a condition far inferior to the surrounding Jewish neighborhoods. The Separation Barrier continues to be built (currently, near Wallajeh), and as radicalism grows in both the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the critical voices of peace activists, Israeli and Palestinian, continue to be persecuted.
Yet, today’s demonstrators also know that their response to the home evictions has ignited an unprecedented protest movement in Sheikh Jarrah, drawing thousands of people to protest harmful actions by their own government, which threaten the possibility of ever achieving peace in the region. They have also seen an increasing international criticism of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem, with the result that for many months, in this past year, settlement activity was effectively halted (OK, admittedly, it’s not anymore!)
International activists can take a cue from the Israelis protesting all over Israel today. Clearly, the criticism of international leaders has an effect on Israeli policy in East Jerusalem, and we should all be doing our part to let our governments know what we think about home evictions and settlements in East Jerusalem, and to make it clear that we will not stand by and watch the possibility for peace in Israel/Palestine crumble. As Israeli activists will chant all over the country today, “Sheikh Jarrah, don’t despair, we’ll still end the occupation!”