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Friday protests in Sheikh Jarrah: Now a tiny vigil

It’s been nearly three years since demonstrations against evictions in Sheikh Jarrah began, and no one has heard a thing about the neighborhood in months. I went to check out the situation there on Friday – and found a shell of what it used to be. 

Handful of people stand in Sheikh Jarrah Park (Photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Nearly 30 protesters gathered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Friday to demonstrate against the appropriation of Palestinian houses for Israeli settlers. An overwhelming majority of the protesters were Israeli; six Palestinians were present.

It was a far cry from the protests that put Sheikh Jarrah and the Israeli Solidarity movement on the map. Those spirited weekly gatherings attracted hundreds who chanted, held signs, and made music in the name of ending the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion.

Friday’s demonstration had no signs, no chants, and no music. A few people waved Palestinian flags. Most milled about and chatted.

A jeep full of border police blew past, uninterested by the small group.

Speaking about the nature of the joint struggle, an elderly Palestinian man whose neighbors lost their home to Israeli settlers remarked that it didn’t matter to him whether protesters were Jewish or Arab. “Anyone who supports [the struggle] against the occupation, he can protest.”

He added that his neighbors’ home is like his home and that joining the demonstration is about the collective, not “something individual.”

Amira Salamon Abdl Aziz expressed a similar sentiment. She lives in A-Ram, a Palestinian village located between Ramallah and Jerusalem. If the separation barrier is constructed as Israeli authorities plan, the village will be hemmed in from three sides.

Amira Salamon Abdl Aziz in Sheikh Jarrah (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Speaking of Sheikh Jarrah, Abdl Aziz reflects, “Today it’s their houses. I never know tomorrow if it’s going to be our house. God knows. God knows.”

She has been attending the weekly protest in Shiekh Jarrah after she goes to Friday prayers at Al Aqsa mosque since the demonstrations began. She takes heart in the peaceful nature of the protest and the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians attend it.

Abdl Aziz, who lived in New York City for 11 years, elaborates, “Over there [in New York], they have Jewish people and Arabic people. There is a chance that we can get along…because over there, our neighbors, we go [to them and] they come to us.”

Even though “things have changed,” Abdl Aziz says regarding the small size of the protest, she keeps coming because of the communal spirit.

Speaking of home evictions, in general, she adds. “You’re sitting there and some [people]—don’t say the Israelis—say aliens came from outer space and they told [you] get out, this house is ours. How [would you] feel?

“That’s the one question I want to ask the world.”

Read also:
What happened to the protests in Sheikh Jarrah? 

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    1. Mira

      Maybe the women who used to come to the protest got fed up with the sexual harassment.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Solidarity issued a statement about a change in focus in September 2011: http://www.en.justjlm.org/584
      I think they stopped providing transport from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the demonstration around this point. I was also startled when I went there after a few months’ absence, back in January. I asked an organiser what was going on, and she said that the demo was now led entirely by the neighbourhood, not by Solidarity. I was not fully satisfied by that explanation, but I have never been an active member in this group and I didn’t feel it was my business to ask further questions.

      Reply to Comment
    3. mya guarnieri

      hi vicky, thanks for your thoughtful comment and the link, which i should have included in my story. a question, something i’ve been chewing on: that the demo has shrunk so dramatically now that it’s being led by the neighborhood… what does that say about the public? why was the protest so popular when Solidarity was leading it and why is it so small now that they are no longer involved? you get what i’m saying?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Transport could be part of it. A lot of people used to come in from Tel Aviv, and if they don’t have a bus any more it may be harder for them to manage it, especially as the demo finishes after the public buses stop running. That can’t account for all of it, though – especially the decline in local Palestinian participation.
      My own feeling is that the attempt to broaden focus just diluted everything. To my knowledge, SJS was the only joint Israeli-Palestinian group with a focus on East Jerusalem. The issues facing the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are often different from those facing Palestinians in the West Bank – their permanent residency status, for a start – and it helps to have a dedicated group with a clear set of goals helping people living in this specific situation. SJS was that group. Effective solidarity work depends on building relationships with the affected communities, as happened in Sheikh Jarrah, and I don’t think you can do that by turning up at Anatot in one week and Jaljuliya in the next. The Sheikh Jarrah protest was strong because Sheikh Jarrah was the movement’s epicentre (which must have been quite heartening for the neighbourhood residents…) and it doesn’t look as though it has an epicentre any more.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      “My own feeling is that the attempt to broaden focus just diluted everything.” – Vicky
      I think that just about sums it up. Solidarity’s epicentre has been lost. I’m kind of sorry the core group didn’t discuss the move with some of the rest of the activists before taking such an important decision, but then I can understand how that might have been impractical. Reading this and Mairav’s article is very sad. I was – still am – convinced that Sheikh Jarrah is where the fulcrum should be.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Natan Brill

      Armchair Activist
      One who sits in their armchair or desk chair and blogs or posts Activists issues on facebook without ever really doing anything about said issues or exercising any form of activism as it would require that person to actually leave the armchair.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ruth

      It is no longer the trendy thing to do.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mik

      Mya, to the best of my understanding, the number of Palestinians has been consistent for the past three years. Very few. Doesn’t matter who is leading it. When Israelis were leading it, people said Palestinians don’t come because Israelis lead. When Palestinians lead it, Israelis forgot them. This is not serious.
      Did you ask Palestinians why so few come to the protests, because that doesn’t seem to me like an Israeli responsibility…

      Reply to Comment
    9. mya guarnieri

      natan: you forget that to report on events and protests necessitates leaving my “armchair” ;)note that the photos above were taken by yours truly and that the interviews do not begin with “speaking by phone.”

      mik: i attended the sheikh jarrah protest when it was at its height and i’m not ready to say that there were only six palestinians there. i think you bring up a valid point but i think that to answer that we also need to think about the act of israelis going into an east jerusalem neighborhood and organizing protests there. and the point of this article wasn’t only that palestinian participation is low.

      Reply to Comment
    10. mya guarnieri

      ruth: i have to say that i agree with your cynical assessment.

      Reply to Comment
    11. sh

      I don’t, Mya. I think it was a mistaken view that once the police had been pushed into the background by the courts and were therefore allowing the settlers to drown out the protests by piping ear-splitting music from the roof of the Ghawi’s house (note that the muezzin’s call to prayer five times a day disturbs Israel, whereas piping insanely loud music
      into residential neighborhoods day and night does not) it would be more constructive to channel their efforts into lending their support to peaceful Palestinian protest elsewhere. Organizing the hundreds that were coming to the weekly protests into groups one of which would assure a continued presence in Sheikh Jarrah protests seems not to have happened for some reason.

      Reply to Comment