Dispatch from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah protest

David Shulman documents the daily ethnic cleansing:

It took the Planning Committee of the Jerusalem City Council less than fifteen minutes to approve plans for the next wave of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. We knew it was coming. Six large Palestinian families—some fifty souls– are to be expelled from their homes, the houses will be demolished, and thirteen apartment units will then be built for Israeli settlers. We know the families, we know the neighborhood, and we know the meaning and intention of this move, a further step in the ethnic cleansing the government is intent on carrying through in Sheikh Jarrah. They probably feel that this moment, with all eyes focused on Egypt, is a good time to act. Some 90,000 housing units for Jews have been built in Jerusalem on private Palestinian land, taken over for this purpose. More are coming.

A small group of activists stood in protest outside the City Council office during the meeting on Monday. The police arrested four of them and, as is their wont, asked the court to prohibit them from participating in demonstrations for 180 days. In the eyes of the Jerusalem police, non-violent civil protest is a disease to be extirpated. The judge threw out the request and scolded the police for the illegal arrests. Here is a small vignette that tells you all you really need to know about the state of civil liberties in Israel today. We are slipping rapidly into a form of “light” Fascism, entirely palatable to the bulk of the Jewish population; democratic institutions such as the courts are still functioning and sometimes act to protect basic rights, but they have little or no power in the face of the anti-democratic laws the Knesset is enacting or of the administrative decisions, of a racist and fanatically nationalist character, that government bodies, such as the Jerusalem municipality, routinely put into effect. “Light” Fascism has a way of turning into its heavier counterpart. We are losing ground day by day.

So here we are at the 65th Friday demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, and Mahmud Sau, whose home is slated for demolition, is addressing the two or three hundred Israeli protesters who have come today, braving the cold rain. “We have been here for over sixty years,” he says. “We are refugees from 1948, and now they will make us refugees a second time. When we moved here, my mother used to bring water, in pots she carried on her head, from a well near where the gas station is today [on Nablus Road]. We built these homes. All we want is to live in peace with everyone. When they destroy my house, they will at the same time cut off access from the street to our neighbors’ homes; how are they supposed to live there? Where will we go?” He thanks us for coming to stand with him. A Palestinian grandmother or great-grandmother, small and bent, ten thousand wrinkles on her face, stands at the gate of her home, scrutinizing the crowd. She must be wondering if we’re capable of doing anything substantial to help. So am I.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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