Israeli police forcefully dispersed American Jewish anti-occupation activists, who had gathered in the Old City to protest Jerusalem Day and the March of the Flags.
Israeli police broke the arm of an American Jewish activist and injured several other anti-occupation demonstrators while forcefully dispersing a Jerusalem Day protest in the Old City on Wednesday.
The demonstration, held at Damascus Gate by American and Israeli Jewish activists with IfNotNow, Free Jerusalem and All That’s Left, took place during the March of the Flags, an annual right-wing parade that habitually results in violence against Palestinians from both its participants and the Israeli police units escorting them. The march is heavily funded by the Jerusalem Municipality.
The parade passes through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, and Palestinian traders along the route are ordered by police to close their shops during the march. IfNotNow organizer Yonah Lieberman told +972 Magazine that Wednesday’s protest was aimed at trying to block the police from clearing out the Muslim Quarter, forcing them to reroute the march.
“[We] decided that it was important to confront the violence of Jerusalem Day head-on,” Lieberman said. “Specifically, [it was] important for us to do all that we could to demonstrate the way that Israeli state violence is used against Palestinians in order to protect right-wing Jewish extremists.”
Around two dozen activists linked arms in front of Damascus Gate, Lieberman explained. He noted that while the group tried to avoid direct confrontation with the march participants, they were “charged at” by right-wing Israelis, before being ordered to move by Israeli police.
Video footage from the protest, shot by Naomi Dann, an activist on the scene, shows police dragging protesters out by their arms and by the neck. Lieberman, who was filmed being carried away in a headlock, can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” to the police holding onto him.
The activist whose arm was broken, Sarah Brammer-Shlay was evacuated in a Palestinian ambulance — whose operators, in support of the protest, waived the fee for the ride — to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. Numerous other protesters were suffering from bruises and the after-effects of being choked.
Neither the Jerusalem Police nor the Border Police responded immediately to a request for comment. Should a response be received, it will be included below.
Many of the participants in the protest had traveled from the West Bank, where they had been participating in the Sumud Freedom Camp — a joint initiative by a coalition of Palestinian, Israeli and diaspora Jewish anti-occupation groups. On Saturday night, Israeli soldiers dismantled the camp and stole its generator, although the activists remained onsite.
For the organizers, Wednesday’s protest in Jerusalem was just the latest step in a burgeoning anti-occupation movement among diaspora Jews.
“Never before has such a coalition come together to put together this kind of action on Jerusalem Day,” Lieberman said. “This was a deeply significant action, demonstrating the growing Jewish anti-occupation movement across the world.
“This is a significant moment for us. Our generation is rejecting the occupation. In [its] 50th year, it felt deeply significant for us to come together and put our bodies on the line.”
Update 25 May, 2017: Israel Police Spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld responded to a request for comment on Brammer-Shlay’s arm being broken by police:
“A resident of East Jerusalem arrived at Damascus Gate and hoisted a Palestinian flag, while calling out towards them [the response does not clarify who ‘they’ are — n.r.]. Clashes broke out between the two sides and police forces separated them. At the same time, police were attacked by the suspect and an additional suspect who didn’t follow police orders and even attacked police. A police officer was evacuated after being hit on the head by an object. When the suspects were arrested left-wing activists started gathering at the scene and sat on the parade route, and were evacuated.”
This is an odd and disingenuous response. Not only does it not deny that the police broke Brammer-Shlay’s arm, it fails to answer the question at all — and makes the disturbing insinuation that alleging clashes between Palestinians and police is a suitable justification for brutalizing nonviolent demonstrators.