I approach demonstrations in Israel very carefully. I usually don't know enough about the organizers to be sure of their commitment to non-violence, and even when I do, serious incidents can occur. I usually attend as an observer. But the demonstration planned for last night in Sheikh Jarrah merited support. I had visited Palestinian family members evicted from their homes, observed the Ultra Orthodox settlers who claimed their homes and knew enough about the protest to have confidence in the planners. I also knew the Israeli Supreme Court had issued strong orders supporting peaceful protest.
Usually, the only ones on time to a demonstration are the police. When I arrived a half hour before the announced start time the Palestinian police were there in full force - I would guess at 1,000 police with riot gear and all the military accoutrements. We were well protected.
Israeli authorities had issued a permit for the demonstration to take place on a nearby soccer field. When I arrived only a few hundred had gathered, and I feared a non-event. Gradually, though, buses began arriving from Haifa and Tel Aviv and Beersheva. And by the time the event began in earnest, there was at least several thousand (Ha'aretz reported 5,000 this morning). What was most wonderful about the crowd was its great diversity and positive mood. There were parents with their children, a good number of older people (like me), lots of young adults; Jews, Christians and Muslims. And they were all in a celebrative mood! There was great music, lots of dancing, dramatic speeches (few of which I understood) and chanting crowds. A Jewish woman told me, "This is wonderful! Protests used to be filled with angry and unhappy people. These people are happy. I feel like dancing!" And she was.
The assymetry of Israeli law, the evictions of poor Palestinian families, the taunting presence of Ultra Orthodox settlers, and the seeming intent of Israel to claim more and more of East Jerusalem have clearly mobilized many - Palestinian residents, Arab and Jewish israelis, internationals.
As I left the demonstration a sizable counter demonstration was being organized by the Ultra Orthodox. The Jerusalem police moved quickly and effectively to move them out of any proximity to demonstrators. Happily, there were no incidents. Happily, too, there was a powerful witness to values held by people of every faith and of no faith - and perhaps the beginning of a new coalition working within Israel for a more just society.