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Popular struggle leader: Education is the best weapon against occupation

Salah Diab, one of the leaders of the struggle against expulsions of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, was released from prison after serving five months for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Now that he has returned to the neighborhood, he is as sure as ever: the future belongs to the Palestinian people, not the settlers.  

It was nearly four-and-a-half years ago that Salah Diab, a resident of the East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, heard noises outside his door. He went outside to see what was going on, taking his camera with him, as did regularly during those days. When he opened the door, Diab saw a crowd of settlers accompanied by policemen and began photographing. What happened after that eventually led to him serve a five-month sentence in an Israeli prison, after having a third of his sentenced commuted due to good behavior.

Salah Diab, a leader of the popular struggle in Sheikh Jarrah, during a weekly protest in the neighborhood. (photo: Amir Bitan)

Salah Diab, a leader of the popular struggle in Sheikh Jarrah, during a weekly protest in the neighborhood. (photo: Amir Bitan)

“When I heard the noise outside, I went out in my shorts to see what was happening. I saw the settlers and the police and began filming. All of a sudden, a policeman came up to me, asked for my ID and says “you’re coming with us.” When I asked why, he said “you’ll find out at the police station.”

“At the station they handcuffed my hands and my legs, put a laptop in front of me and said ‘watch.’ In the video I see three or four men arguing with a settler and then beating him. I asked how this had anything to do with me. ‘Here you are,’ they responded. ‘Where?’ I asked, and they showed me a man with his back turned to the camera. ‘Here, the tall, skinny man. That’s you.’ ‘Are you kidding me?’ I responded, ‘this is why you took me from my home and handcuffed me?’

“They took me to the Russian Compound [a police station and jail in the heart of Jerusalem], where they detained me three times for a period of 24 hours. During the hearing they said I was a dangerous person and that the man whom I attacked had to go to the hospital. I told them that I only get home from work around 9 p.m., but the camera shows that incident took place at 8:15 p.m. They left me there for three more days, and after that I was released on bail.

“After two years, my lawyer calls and says, “they like you there – you’ll have a court hearing.” We went. They brought all the settlers and policemen who attended the weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests as witnesses. They told lie after lie. The video showed six attackers, but I was the only person detained.”

“The just sent me to a probation officer in Be’er Sheva. I went and spoke to him. He said, ‘Diab, you are not the kind of person who goes to jail, you’re not a criminal. I will make a recommendation for you.’ We went back to the judge. I think that she understood that I was being framed, but she could not do a thing, since the Shin Bet was out for me. I saw how she tried to help, and gave me five months of community service and three years of probation.”

Property rights: Israel’s pandora’s box

As strange as it may sound, anyone who knows about how the police behave in East Jerusalem knows that Diab’s story doesn’t sound so out of the ordinary. Visits to the Russian Compound followed by trips to the courthouse are commonplace in every Palestinian neighborhood where one of the activists is targeted for being the local leader. When one comes to look for Juad Siam, one of the prominent, young activists in the Silwan neighborhood, the first question will always be: “Is he inside or outside?”

Palestinian children from Lod singing at the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, January 28 2011 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

Palestinian children from Lod chant at the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, January 28, 2011. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

And Salah is without a doubt a local leader. He has been attending the weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah for nearly five years – always smiling, giving coffee and sweets to the demonstrators and talking about the latest updates in the neighborhood.

Between 2010-2011, the Friday protests brought hundreds of people to Sheikh Jarrah on a weekly basis. The protests grew steadily, perhaps due to the police’s excessive violence against the demonstrators, which was able to shock even many armchair activists.

Or perhaps the galvanizing power of the protests was due to the severity of the injustice that took place there. The state expelled Palestinian residents from their homes after former Jewish residents filed legal claims to the properties they owned before 1948, while refusing to even discuss the rights of the Arab residents’ rights to the land from which they were expelled upon the state’s formation.

Or perhaps there was a fear of opening the pandora’s box of discussing land and property ownership from before 1948. This, of course, is the basis of the entire Israeli-Zionist premise: in 1948 we turned over a new leaf, and if the state begins discussing cases of land ownership from before 1948 in order to dispossess Palestinians, who knows how long they’ll be able to prevent Palestinians from demanding their properties in Jaffa, Haifa and Talbiyeh from before 1948 by implementing discriminatory legislation.

First day of school, first day in jail

Either way, Salah appealed the District Court’s decision. After all, even a Palestinian from East Jerusalem cannot be convicted solely due to the fact that he is tall and skinny. Or at least he thought; the judges sentenced Saleh to eight months in prison, beginning on September 1, 2014. The first day of school.

“That morning took my kids to school and told them ‘when you come home, you won’t see me here for a while.'”

He has a hard time talking about the months he spent on the inside. Something has changed since the last time I saw him at the last protest before his prison stint.

Salah Diab sits in his yard. (photo: Orly Noy)

Salah Diab sits in his yard. (photo: Orly Noy)

“I’ll tell you the truth, it was difficult. At night when I put my head on the pillow, I saw things play out in front of my eyes. I thought about the violence I had brought into the lives of my children, the violence that I had brought into your lives – my friends and supporters who worried about me on the outside, and who continued to attend the weekly demonstrations in the neighborhood. The violence that I had brought into my parents’ lives.”

“I lived in the same room as a 25-year-old man from Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, who had a very severe psychiatric illness. I spent a lot of time supporting him. I didn’t leave the room for the first three months. He would smoke three-and-a-half packs a day, and if he didn’t have any cigarettes he would hit himself as well as me. Every day he would run around the room screaming. One night, when we were laying down to sleep on our bunk beds, he leaned down and said, ‘Salah, I am sorry for the trouble I have caused you. Forgive me, I am asking for forgiveness.’ That was the most difficult moment for me in prison.”

The youth are our future

We sit in his yard, adjacent to the al-Kurd family home – one of the first ones to be evacuated and taken over by settlers. Several years ago, around the time Israelis were celebrating the Jewish holiday Purim, the settlers put speakers in the middle of the street and began singing songs of praise for Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers at Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. The Ghawai family, who were kicked out of their home around the same time, sat for months in a tent across the street, watching as the settlers lived in their home. I look at the Ghawai home’s roof: the Israeli flag is no longer there, but the giant menorah is still standing.

Sheikh Jarrah, el Kurd family after eviction March 11, 2009 (Activestills)

The al-Kurd family seen after its eviction from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, March 11, 2009. (Activestills)

Meanwhile, some of the younger residents arrive to congratulate Salah on his release. Five high schoolers, holding their schoolbooks, came straight from school. They shake his hand in reverence, and wait on the side until he frees up to speak to them.

What do you say to the young people who come see you?

“The thing I repeat to them is that they are the ones who build the future, and that they must make sure that the occupation doesn’t drag them into bad things. That they must study, and study well. That the occupation is against us in everything. In prison I saw how 90 percent of our boys fall prey to drugs and theft. I tell the youth that that they must not give the occupation the opportunity to take them in for nothing. That they must study.”

What kind of future awaits them?

“The future is near. The future is good. I see it with my own eyes. Every person in this land is waiting for justice. Those settlers across the street – they’re stupid. The future is not with them. For years the world has given them everything they were wanted, and look, we’re still here. Did they expel us? They didn’t expel us. The future is with us.”

Did the weekly protests in the neighborhood change anything?

“Whoever says that our protests didn’t change anything is blind. First of all, even a smile and the love between us is enough. It gives power. What brings someone here from Tel Aviv in the rain, cold or snow? Love. And he who is just never breaks. It is difficult and can take a lot of time, but in the Quran it says that Allah is with those who have patience. Look at how your prime ministers fall prey to their own lies. This state is based on a lie, on theft. This will be its downfall.”

Are you disappointed that the protests have gotten smaller over time?

“Not at all. Look, everyone came last Friday after I was released. Good on them! We are here every week, and we will continue. The truth is that when I was in prison, I was afraid that the settlers might do something to the protesters. Every week I called to make sure that everyone is okay.”

“I have no words to describe how I feel about our Jewish friends who come here every week. Love. Excitement. They are the ones who hold us here. They give us a lot of strength. I am sure that because of you, the authorities haven’t kicked out more people.”

But even so, they are a small minority.

“I am sorry to say it, but the Israeli people are stupid. They think they are smart, but they are stupid. Look, soon you will have elections. And they choose the most racist people and think this is good for them, but they don’t understand how this racism only brings them more war and blood. You need to understand one thing: your leaders aren’t working for you, but for themselves. You are of no interest to them.”

“The Israelis need to understand that we are here and aren’t going anywhere. My father was from Jaffa – they expelled him and now I am here. I didn’t disappear. And if they expel me, my son will keep going after me. We will stay here until after the occupation.”

***

Now that he is back, Salah wants to return to his old life. His children’s grades dropped slightly while he was away, and it is important for him to work with them so that they go back to excelling in school. “But before all that, I need to deal with another court case.”

You’re kidding.

“Upon my release they handed me both my release letter and another summons for a court hearing. They said that in 2012 I called a policeman ‘racist,’ and that I hit a utility pole with a stick. Just my luck: turns out the pole was Jewish.”

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
Turning over a new leaf: An interview with a former Palestinian ‘security prisoner’
Hundreds protest against impending eviction of family in Sheikh Jarrah

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Resource: UNRWA now has a photo archive of the Palestinian experience:

      http://archive.unrwa.org/

      On this website, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) unveils the first images of its newly digitized archive. Over half a million images and hours of film will follow, covering all aspects of the lives and history of Palestine refugees from 1948 to the present day.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Bruce, you have gone off topic again. If education is the best weapon, ought not this educator start talking the truth about Jaffa? He says his father was from Jaffa and he was expelled. This is not true. His father, his father and grandfather fled Jaffa instead of staying and fighting as the Jews did in similar circumstances. Out of 70,000 Arabs in Jaffa, only 4,000 did not flee the fighting and those who were supposed to protect them. 66,000 Arabs uprooted themselves and left while the almost 30,000 Jews remained steadfast in their homes.

        During the Israeli War of Independence Arab society in fell apart and dispersed itself. One third of Arab Jaffa got up and left long before the attacks of the Irgun on April 25-28, 1948. Even after the British forced a cease fire on May 1, 1948 Arabs climbed over each other to disembark from Jaffa. Notables, merchants, Christians, middle and low class people could not get out fast enough. By May 4, 1948 the main hospital in Jaffa only had one doctor and one nurse. Ambulance drivers drove their family to the port and abandoned their posts. The rest had hit the highway. The civic leaders and military leaders left. The Arab Liberation Army before leaving looted Arab homes, robbed Arab people and raped Arab women. Arab criminals roamed the streets looking for easy spoils. Arab society in Jaffa was rendered asunder.

        On May 14, 1948 the Haganah entered Jaffa unopposed. The Arabs, their soldiers and families had fled. There was no need to expel them, they had left on their own.

        You might also want to mention that the Jewish forces twice in April of 1948 tried to save Jaffa by negotiating an end to hostilities in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The Arab Higher Committee would have none of it and accused local Arab leaders as traitors for negotiating with the Jews.

        In their desire to destroy the emerging Jewish state, the Arabs destroyed their own society.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          This is almost too stupid to even begin answering seriously. The Palestinians tried to destroy the Jewish state by running away from the conflict zone. It sounds kind of like that old antisemitic conspiracy theory, the Jews are going to control the world by placing themselves in ghettos.

          I really should just stop the post right there, however…

          The Arab Higher Committee would have none of it and accused local Arab leaders as traitors for negotiating with the Jews.

          That said, look at what those who negotiated with the Jews got for their trouble. Sheikh Muwannis and the other Jaffa-area villages ended up fleeing despite avoiding hostilities, and were readily demolished the same as any other village which hosted militia fighters. Making complete chop suey of the Israeli apologists’ favorite dichotomy, those who fight the Jews bring it on themselves, those who don’t have nothing to worry about. (Morris, Birth Revisited, 91, 127-28)

          Likewise, Deir Yassin was holding to its agreement not to host irregulars, and the Haganah collaborated in the Irgun-Lechi attack. (Morris, 91, 97, 237)

          Huj is a special example of a village that actively aided the Haganah during the period it rebelled against the British, and the villagers were expelled in late May of ’48. (Morris, 258)

          Reply to Comment
    2. Tony Riley

      He thinks Israelis are stupid. Lacks a bit of self-awareness. The game is over – his team failed to kill the Jews. He lost. He wants a “right of return”, but protests against Jews getting their property back. Genius!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mikesailor

      Tony: You are what I would call a perfect example of a “schmuck”. He is a survivor. And he will not be moved unless you want to try a new “Final Solution”. And, what do you mean Jews getting their property back. What property did they purchase? Or do you just mean steal at the point of a gun. This is what he means by your stupidity. History is long. And the way the Zionists are going, the so-called “Jewish” state will someday be consigned to the “dustbin of history”. And on the sign pointing to the trash receptacle labeled “Israel” will be the words “Died of a wrong-headed racist theory combined with overwhelming hubris”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        Mike:

        By coincidence, my (Jewish) family actually bought a house in Sheikh Jerakh. That’s the neighborhood in the article, yes?

        They did so in the 1880s, along with a rather large group of Yemeni Jews.
        Their property was confiscated by the Jordanians- and guess what?
        My gradmother still has the key to that house, which is oh-so-familiar.

        This being the interweb and all, I could be posing or making stuff up. Well, if you’re ever in the area you are welcome to stop by my grandma’s house, or go to Sheikh Jerakh.
        You can also Google ‘Yemenite Jews Sheikh jerakh Jerusalem’

        Happy hunting!

        Reply to Comment
        • rose

          Guy, your family cannot have “actually bought” one of the houses from which Palestinians have recently being expelled. The houses in question were built during the Jordanian regime on an olive grove. They were proposed as a solution for accommodating
          Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in various parts of Israel in
          1948. The ownership of the lots is disputed.

          “My family is originally from Talbiyeh,” a Palestinian resident argued referring to what has become today one of the wealthiest districts of West Jerusalem. “I am not allowed to go back to the property that is rightfully mine, but these settlers are given my home, which never belonged to them.”

          I pray that in the next life you will be a Palestinian from Sheikh Jarrah. What goes around comes around. If not in this life…

          Reply to Comment
          • Guy L.

            Rose, please read the post again.
            I’m going to go ahead and guess that you probably skimmed over it, or maybe just read the first sentence.

            As far as I know 1880 < 1948, so unless the good people in pre-mandate Palestine developed a time travel device, or the universe somehow twists through the fourth dimension with Jerusalem as the main axis- I don't see how an object that was bought in 1880 was only built in 1948 to provide a solution to a problem that hasn't yet occurred.

            If you're ever down there, just ask one of the older fellows- some of them will attest to the fact that there were two large Jewish sections there.

            If you have any more personal remarks you want to make, or if you have any other reincarnation plans for me (Maybe you'd like me to be a cucumber, or a blind beggar in New Delhi), don't.
            If you want to share your views on the subject, and have a sane discussion it would be nice.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Brian

      Orly Noy, thank you for another superb piece in an outstanding series. I encourage all readers here to click on the author’s name above and read the preceding articles by Orly Noy. They are vivid and absorbing and taken together, remarkable. They serve to break through the crust of established myths. Very illuminating.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bar

      ““The Israelis need to understand that we are here and aren’t going anywhere. My father was from Jaffa – they expelled him and now I am here. I didn’t disappear. And if they expel me, my son will keep going after me. We will stay here until after the occupation.””

      Another view:

      “The Arabs need to understand that we are here and aren’t going anywhere. My father was from Jerusalem – they expelled him and now we are back here after bloody wars Arabs wanted and started. I didn’t disappear. And if they try to expel me again, my son will keep fighting to bring me back. We will stay here.”

      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Whenever someone brings up this talking point about the Arabs starting wars, I feel compelled to point out the Zionists went out of their way to make a military alliance with Great Britain (Not to mention the attempt by Herzl to enlist Germany in forming a protectorate). You can keep peddling the image of a civil engineering project that would build alongside the Arabs without any disturbance, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. They wanted a European power to conquer Palestine.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          The early Zionists approached the Ottoman Emperor to create a Jewish state in the Ottoman Empire. This did not require an European power to conquer Southern Syria and Jerusalem because they were already part of the Ottoman Empire. Ben Gurion would have been as happy to have Turkish tutelage of a Jewish state as much any European power.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Right, just like the British asked nicely for tariff protection before they took to killing Bengalis. If the Zionists were serious about peace, they would have recognized they were the belligerent party and terminated their demographic engineering project.

            Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Except for the part about “wanted and started,” which is contentious, I don’t see how these two narratives cannot both be true enough and why a well known two state solution that shares Jerusalem could not only be built upon these two views, but is the only practical solution to the conflict defined by these two narratives. There will never be a Platonic ideal solution to this conflict. History continues. Real people and their children continue in the present, on both sides.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Margaret Kelso

      Great post Guy L refuting the article.

      Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        I was trying to respond to Mike’s not-very-nice and ill informed post about evil Jews descending down like vultures and stealing land without ever purchasing it.
        I wasn’t trying to refute the article because I actually agree with most of it.

        My family will probably never attempt to reclaim their property, and I support it. We’re not homeless, and we have no intentions of making others such.
        The Jewish families that are “moving in” are probably also not poor and destitute, but decided to drive other people away from their homes because of ideology. They could have been perfectly happy staying where they were, but decided to make other people miserable. Which is evil and disgusting

        Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      Guy L: If your grandmother bought a house in Sheikh Jerakh in the 1880’s, and was expelled by the Jordanians, then she should be able to retrieve her property or be paid compensation for the taking. Likewise, if a Palestinian owned a house in Lod, and the Israelis expelled him and took the house, the same rules should apply, correct? The Jews only “owned or purchased less than 6% of the land. Yet now they have stolen 78% not counting the west bank and Gaza, and the remaining 22% is constantly being stolen by the settlers and the IDF. So, I call the Zionists thieves because they are. First of all, the Jordanians expelled your grandmother, not the Palestinians. So should they suffer for someone else actions? Isn’t that the entire premise of Zionism? That the Palestinians should be dispossessed and brutalized for acts they had no part in promulgating? I always love the excuses the Zionists make about how they somehow “deserved” a state, and therefore any killing and dispossession was excused. That they still have not stopped brutalizing the Palestinians gives the lie to all their claims.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Guy L.

      Mike:

      Just because someone “should” be able do something, doesn’t mean that they should do it.
      I “should” be able to bang pots together for 6 consecutive hours every weekday, but that would make me an ass.
      We “should” (although I’m pretty sure that we can’t) be able to retrieve our home- but that doesn’t mean that we should actually do it, especially not if other people are already living there.

      To reiterate- The Jewish families that are “moving in” to Sheikh Jerakh are probably not poor and destitute, but decided to drive other people away from their homes because of ideology and wickedness. They could have been perfectly happy staying where they were, but decided to make other people miserable. Which is evil and disgusting.

      So to answer your question- Personally, I don’t think that we should be entitled to any compensation, especially not if it comes at other people’s expenses. And as you said- the same rules apply both to Palestinians and Jews.

      Just out curiosity- if Jews that were expelled from their homes should be able to reclaim their lost property, and Palestinians should be able to reclaim theirs- does the rule apply to other nations as well?
      According to that logic, North America (Canada included) should actually belong to the indigenous tribes. I always love the excuses the Whites make about how they somehow “deserved” a state, and therefore any killing and dispossession was excused.

      I am aware of the history of Israel, and how it was created, but there were very sincere efforts to actually buy tracts of land. Saying that the main premise of Zionism is to brutalize Palestinians is just a sad excuse that makes it easier to loathe other people. Just like saying that the main premise of Palestinian nationalism is to kill all Jews, the main premise of Islam is to behead infidels, and that the main premise of Christianity is to eliminate homosexuality.

      The Israeli government does deserve criticism and even condemnation in some cases, but there’s a wide gap between criticizing actions and (as I assume from your posts) between denying a nation’s very right to exist, and wanting to have it “consigned to the dustbin of history” as you so nicely put it.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mikesailor

      Should one stop an ongoing crime or merely commiserate over past injustices? Does past injustice justify present criminality? If it does, then your argument would have some foundation. Since it doesn’t, you are full of it. There were very few “sincere efforts to buy land” by the Zionists. Instead they used terrorism to force Palestinians to abandon their properties. They not only killed innocent “Arabs” but even bombed marketplaces and poisoned water supplies. And they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams when even the British decided to pull out rather than try to fix the mess they helped make. Why? Because the Zionists had no intention of living with their neighbors, they went about the business of forming an ethnocentric “Jewish” state and the pesky indigenous who had inhabited the land for centuries if not millennia were forced out. Actually Zionism excelled at providing terrorists with two of the worst becoming Israeli Prime Ministers. And, it still continues to this day. So, your hypocrisy stands out. As I’ve always said, “Scratch a “liberal” Zionist and you will find the racist underneath.” Now. there would be a way for both sides to live together: Drive a stake through the vampire know as Zionism”. Create a state where all citizens would share equal rights and responsibilities. A state which could curb the worst excesses of the majority with respect to the minority. But you don’t like that idea, do you? So while you call Jews moving into and expelling Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, you are notoriously silent about the settlements and ethnic cleansing which has occurred and is still occurring.

      Reply to Comment
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