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Home arrow Blog arrow July 2010 arrow July 21, 2010: Back to Sheikh Jarrah

July 21, 2010: Back to Sheikh Jarrah
July 21, 2010: Back to Sheikh Jarrah


Strong Seeds in Sheikh Jarrah

By David Shulman
Bernard Avishai Dot Com
July 9-14, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah, July 9, 2010

I`ve been thinking about truth. About what the word means, and how we know what it means. This comes in the wake of yesterday`s demonstration, with its by now habitual rituals unfolding in their remorseless, bitter order: the hopeful beginning, the drumming and slogans, the dispossessed Palestinians standing beside us as we chant, the rapid, volatile crescendo, the eventual police attack, and the arrests. Sarah, a young woman of astonishing courage and clarity, was among the first to be arrested.

On the one hand, Sheikh Jarrah is a touchstone. As my son Misha said to me on the way back: Some things are amazingly simple. In Sheikh Jarrah you can see pure theft in all its starkness. The Bible says `Thou shalt not steal,` and itן¿½God, that is-- was referring to Sheikh Jarrah. Any one can see it. The shocking thing, of course, is that the whole apparatus of the modern state - the municipality, its committees and master plans and grey bureaucrats, the mayor, the government, the Prime Minister, the cabinet, the courts, the police, the secret services - all these have colluded in actively perpetrating the theft. There`s really not much room for argument. Either you stand by and let them throw innocent people out of their homes, or you come each week to demonstrate and resist. It`s particularly terrible because the wave of expulsions is continuing, in fact intensifying. Two weeks ago we shifted the demonstration to the new set of houses that have been targeted. As so many times before, we heard an aged, wrinkled Palestinian grandmother say: `Why are they doing this to us? I prefer to die than to leave my home.`

It`s clear that the government wants to destroy the whole of Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah, to rid the neighborhood of its many dozens of extended families, and to replace them with Jewish settlers. It`s quite possible that in a few years` time, if the process continues to accelerate, there will be nothing left of Sheikh Jarrah. The mosque will be replaced by a yeshiva - plans for its location already exist--the homes of the Palestinian refugees from 1948 will be occupied by fanatical settlers, new (ugly) apartment buildings will go up, the Arabic street signs will disappear; in short, a whole piece of reality, with its language, its memories, its dreams, its human dramas, large and small, will be liquidated. That`s the plan. That`s what they want. Why should they want it? Hate exists. Truth can be simple.

On the other hand, I think this simple truth is itself enveloped by another, deeper one, more inchoate and lonely, perhaps resistant to formulation. I`ll try to say something about it and about the way it becomes manifest.

THE EARLY PART of the demonstration is somehow satisfying. No sooner do we arrive than Ezra Nawi spots me and recruits me to his infiltration squads: `Come with me.` I should describe the situation. The stolen houses, now inhabited by Israeli settlers, are about 100 meters down one of the main streets leading into the neighborhood. In recent months, the protestors have been strictly barred from approaching the houses, or even from setting foot in the upper part of the road. Settlers and right-wing activists have free run of the entire neighborhood, as do ultra-orthodox Jews who come to pray at the nearby tomb of Simeon the Just. Our quarrel is not with the latter. The houses themselves are now draped in Israeli flags, and on the roof of the al-Ghawi house there is also a large, crude candelabra, probably there since Chanukah.

Something changed slightly in the course of this last week. Some of our people prepared an appeal to the Legal Adviser to the government, Yehuda Weinstein; the letter sets out, in precise, understated language, the tortuous story of police violence and illegal actions in Sheikh Jarrah over the last few months, and also offers the fairly obvious explanation that senior officers in the Jerusalem police are driven by a blatant right-wing bias. The letter was signed by many well-known public figures in Israel and received much media attention. So today, riding on the crest of a wave, however small, we are no longer playing by their rules. The police barricades are up, and both the blue-grey Jerusalem police and the sinister, black-clothed riot police are there, but a good 200 to 300 activists, maybe more, are already milling around in the upper part of the street. I follow Ezra and a few others by a roundabout route, over walls and fences and through an olive grove, to end up in front of the stolen houses themselves. The drummers are drumming, and there are shouts: `Free Sheikh Jarrah!` `One Two Three Four, Fascism Will March No More!` And so on. I hug Nasir, one of the evictees. About fifty of us have gotten through, and there is a steady stream of new faces, including, to my delight, my son Misha and his bride-to-be Erika (they announced their engagement to us just half an hour before).

It is good to be here, close to the families (a really good place to celebrate an engagement). On the outer wall of the al-Kurd house, someone has etched a Palestinian flag with the caption: `History Is With Us.` A small contingent of police is there to hold us back, and at first they are relaxed, almost nonchalant. Occasionally, we hear shouts and cries from the upper street; later we discover that the police had already moved to suppress the protest there with violence, and the first arrests were under way. Eventually they get to us, too. Reinforcements arrive, and soon they attack, pushing and poking us, lashing out, bending arms, kicking a little, roughing us up, and occasionally picking someone out and carrying him or her off to the detention vans. I`ve seen much worse, but it isn`t pleasant, and it is, needless to say, both illegal and gratuitous. A non-violent demonstration of this sort has repeatedly been pronounced legal by the judges who, week after week, released the arrested activists (after a weekend in jail) and reprimanded the police for making the arrests in the first place.

Herded uphill, amidst the yelling and the scuffles, we are singing the famous Hasidic song of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav: `The whole world is but a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid.` Speaking of truth, it rings true on this sorrowful street, like a memory of what it once meant to be Jewish. I wonder what Rabbi Nachman, one of the deepest minds in Jewish history, would have said about what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah. Actually, I think I know. A policeman strikes Erika, and Misha instinctively moves to protect her, pushes him back. A friend asks me why we are refusing to obey the police commands, why we are moving so slowly, holding our ground, so that they have to push and drag us physically up the hill, and some people get hurt and get arrested. I explain. It is important to resist. It is basic to who we are and what we stand for. Even if no one is watching, even if no one knows, if we are to remain human, we must continue to bear witness and to resist.

EVEN AS I say the words, I realize they`re not much of an argument. So what if we resist? Look at the forces arrayed against us, look at our failure to make change happen. Where are the hundreds of thousands who should be standing here with us? What good is truth, anyway, when the liars and the thieves and the demented politicians have the guns, and when the ordinary Israeli person, whoever he is, just living his life, won`t break through the shell of his lethal indifference? But I`m not groping toward a philosopher`s truth, and the moral equation is not, after all, in question. We`ve already defined the situation. `Thou shalt not steal.` What does this have to do with being poked and prodded up the hill?

I think the point is that there is no ordinary person. For every one there`s the same precarious balance, and the same struggle. The easy way is always to go along with the cruelty; most do. Some don`t. You can see it here on the street. Something has galvanized the people around me to do the decent thing. I don`t think they had to think about it. It is something one knows the way we know that someday we will die, though we mostly deny this in our hearts; or the way we know how to fall in love, and how to stay in love, and how to hold a baby and how to rest when we are tired and other things like that. Such knowledge isn`t simple in the way the other kind of truth might be.

It is something we carry in our bodies, and it`s often a rather delicate and complicated business, where it`s easy to make the wrong choice out of fear or laziness or confusion. Hence the struggle. When you make the right choice, there`s truly no mistaking it. No syllogisms or proof-texts are needed. Your skin tells you, or your muscles and bones, even before your mind looks for words. You feel wholeן¿½a whole human being, capable of action. I look around me at the stalwarts of the Sheikh Jarrah protests. The moral calculus of action, easily put into words, is not the only reason they are here. Actually, nothing instrumental can fully explain it, any more than the instrumental or the reasonable can explain why we are alive. Let them poke me and push me and arrest me and curse me, I don`t care. I care that they have driven Nasir and his family from their home. In that sense, I`m here for truth, a Greek truth, perhaps, the peeling away of a veil. I will stand my ground.

There was another good example of it last week. Yonatan Shapira, a captain in the Air Force who has refused to serve, who helped organize the letter of the pilots refusing to perform missions in the Palestinian territories, sprayed two graffiti on the last remnant of the wall surrounding the Warsaw ghetto: `Liberate all ghettos` (in Hebrew) and `Free Gaza and Palestine` (in English). He did it openly, in the full light of day, and he also explained it:

`The Holocaust has been appropriated for years now by the Israeli government and the Israeli education system. The Israeli establishment would rather have Jews and Israelis in a state of frightened victims who worship militarism.....In our act we tried to separate between the actions of the Israeli Government and Jews. The lesson that should be learned from the Holocaust is resistance to any form of racism. Resistance to ethnic cleansing and forced expulsion of people. Resistance to the starvation of human beings and their confinement into ghettos. These are issues that the Israeli policy makers would like us to ignore and forget.`

At the top of the hill I find my colleague Tamar. `How`s the revolution going up here?` I ask her, a little sadly. `Just look at these people,` she says. `They`ve planted some strong seeds. Some day they will bear fruit.`

The Many Layers of NaHalat Shimon beg the question: Where's the money coming from?

On August 8, 2009, I wrote:

[Occupied East Jerusalem] Last Sunday morning just before sunrise, Israeli forces evicted seventy more Palestinians from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which is being taken over by the Nahalat Shimon settlers.

"The events in Sheikh Jarrah garnered international censure from the European Union, the United Nations (UN) and from Britain, which said it was 'appalled' at the move. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday night called the Israeli evictions "deeply regrettable" and she urged "the government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions." [1]

Israeli forces also demolished the Al-Kurd family protest tent for the sixth time. The Al-Kurd family was evicted from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood last November, just prior to my first visit and I returned again on June 10, 2009.

Less than a five minute walk from my room at the Ambassador Hotel and less than ten from the Old City of Jerusalem is the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Around the corner from my hotel and up the hill from the Al-Kurd Tent is a newly erected community center with a plaque "Dedicated to the Children of Shimon Hazadik Neighborhood" from a Dr. Rubin Brecher and family of Lawrence, New York.

According to Jewish tradition, Shimon Hazadik (which means 'The righteous') was the High Priest at the time of Alexander the Great. He reminded the people of what's important in the world and he used to say: "On three things the world stands: the Torah, on Service [prayer] and on acts of kindness."[2]

Mrs. Al-Kurd, known as Um Kamal [mother of Kamal] and her now deceased husband Mohammed had lived in the neighborhood from 1956 until the morning of November 9, 2008 when the Israeli police enforced a court order that evicted them.

When I returned to the tent on June 10, 2009 and asked Um Kamal where her calm strength and perpetual smile came from, she gestured to the sky and responded, "Allah: God gives me."

Maher Hannoun interjected, "Um Kamal is a strong woman because she has a strong connection to this land where we both were born! Even for millions of dollars we would never sell our land, our hopes, our dreams! We are here legally and we have a contract that was signed between the government and UNWRRA, but what gives us the real power to fight is seeing all the people who come to be with us here believing in human rights. We need every one to carry our message around the world that this is our home and we will never leave here.

"In Gaza they attacked with F16 tanks. In Jerusalem they attack with evictions and transferring property. More than 500 homes in this neighborhood have already received eviction notices. They are building 200 settler units and an American Israeli company named Nahalat Shimon Builders is behind it."

Nahalat Shimon is also the name of a settler group and a real estate company.

On August 2, 2009, "Israeli riot police wielding clubs kicked out two Palestinian families from their homes in occupied east Jerusalem on Sunday, defying international protests over Jewish settlement activity in the area. Clashes erupted after police moved in at dawn around the homes in the upmarket Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah following an Israeli court decision ordering the eviction of the 53 Palestinians, including 19 minors.

“I was born in this house and so were my children,” said Maher Hanoun, whose family was evicted along with the neighboring Ghawi household. “Now we are on the streets. We have become refugees.”

"The Supreme Court ordered the evictions following an appeal by the Nahalat Shimon International settler group which claimed Jewish settlers have title deeds for the properties, despite UN and Palestinian denials. Jerusalem authorities have also given permission for the construction of about 20 housing units in Sheikh Jarrah, in defiance of global calls for a halt to all settlement activity in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank." [3]

On November 9, 2008, at 3:30 AM, Reverend Richard Toll was awakened in his hotel room in the Ambassador while the Israeli Occupying Forces/IOF broke down the door of the home of the Al Khurd family. Rev. Toll informed me that he was jarred awake by a woman’s pain filled scream that was indescribable.

The Al Khurd family had lived in their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood since the days when east Jerusalem was under Jordanian control. The United Nations upon contract with Jordan allotted them the land after they became refugees when they were expelled from their home in west Jerusalem by Zionists during the 1948 war.

Hasib Nashashibi, of the Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights [an NGO coalition of Palestinian Muslim and Christians] explained to me, “When Jordan controlled this land and the UN granted privileges to the Palestinian refugees including those from west Jerusalem, such as education, health care, and relief and development; they also allowed the refugees to give up some privileges and receive a home and land deed instead. Jordan never fulfilled their obligation to send the written documentation that these west Jerusalem refugees are land owners and not tenants. Now the Israeli’s are trying to make them refugees for the second time!”

Since East Jerusalem’s occupation by Israel in 1967, the Oriental Jews Associations and the Knesseth Yisrael Association have been waging a brutal take over of the Khurds’ home, claiming that the land originally belonged to Jews.

In 1972, they succeeded to register the land in their name with the Israeli Land registrar. In 1999, settlers burst into the home and set up an occupation in a wing of the house that belonged to the couple’s son, Raed. The Khurd family hired lawyers and have spent a fortune in court battles and in 2006, the Israeli court finally revoked the claim of ownership by the settlers. However, on February 25, 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court issued an order to evict the settlers but it was never enforced!

In Israeli law, all of Jerusalem, including the eastern half of the city, is considered to be the “indivisible” capital of the Jewish state and religiously fundamentalist settlers have been claiming land all over occupied East Jerusalem based on title deeds that pre-existed 1948.

Since Israel became a state 531 Palestinian villages have been destroyed and 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees in 1948, and Israel continues to make more!

President George W. Bush became a willing collaborator in this on going injustice in his infamous 2004 exchange of letters with Ariel Sharon. Bush agreed that Israel would not be expected to return to the armistice lines of 1949 and declared that Israel would be able to hold on to its “population centers” in the West Bank. This is nothing more than Orwellian spin that attempts to justify the established settlement blocs for every one of them are illegal under international law.

"Michshol Hafrada" is Hebrew for "The Separation Wall" and separation translates to Apartheid in Afrikaan.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out And to whom I was likely to give offence. Something there is that does not love a wall, That wants it down.-Robert Frost

The Wall has divided Palestinians from Palestinians and has stolen their aquifers, denies them access to their land, jobs, families and holy sites and for every mile it consumes over $1.25 Million USA Tax dollars.

The Wall was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice but no president has yet demanded Israel to tear down this wall!

The so called Holy Land is a Swiss cheese of land locked enclaves; known as Bantustans in Afrikaan. Jewish only colonies have been implanted to divide the Palestinian neighborhoods throughout occupied territory. Over 100,000 Palestinians are trapped and then daily humiliated and tortured at the over 600 checkpoints that deny them access to their families, land, jobs, resources and holy sites.

Since 1967, over 22,000 dwellings -averaging eleven people per unit- have been bulldozed by Israeli forces usually because they interfere with settlement expansion.

Israel attempts to justify their immoral actions with three distinct categories:

1. Collective Punishment: Homes of suspected terrorists-in reality that is anyone who opposes the occupation- as well as the families of suicide/homicide bombers.

These punitive actions amount to 15% of the over 22,000 homes destroyed since 1967.

2. Administrative demolitions for lack of building permits: Israel refuses to issue any and this accounts for 25%. In occupied east Jerusalem one out of four Palestinian homes have a demolition order.

3. Security: The blanket reason given for all of Israel’s injustices and illegal actions.

On December 20, 2006, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his relentless work confronting and challenging South Africa's Apartheid regime was quoted in The Guardian: "I've been deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land. I have seen the humiliation at the checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about…Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice…If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land."

I imagine Shimon Hazadik might remind "the children" who are taking over the neighborhood that,"From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught...that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, 'vomit you out' if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah [command]:

"When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger; the other, the one who is an outsider of your society, the powerless one and then not only 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself' but also 'you shall love the other.'" [4]

I also imagine Shimon Hazadik might be interested- as we all should- in knowing from whom and where the money comes from that equips the Nahalat Shimon settlers. 

4.   Rabbi Lerner, TIKKUN Magazine, page 35, Sept./Oct. 2007


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by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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