Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Celebrative Evening in Sheikh Jarrah

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.


PrincessMax said...

What a positive experience! Thank you for sharing.

Brant said...

Thank you, Cotton, for this wonderful report. It's clear that a new movement is brewing. Let's hope it will blossom into something significant and transformative.

bar_kochba132 said...

Interesting that you keep pointing out that the other side are "Ultra-Orthodox"-three times. I wonder why? Does it give a little more "oomph" to your outrage? Does drawing a picture beyond a simple statement of "Jews" or "Israelis" moving into the house make it easier to move your followers? But, being a good Christian, don't you love everyone equally?

Lael said...

Hi Cotton, I meet with Cong. Mike Michaud tomorrow on US policy, Israel and Palestine with Tobins etc. Your comments and pictures give me Technicolor refreshment on the urgency for change that can bring peace and fairness to all.

Al Miller said...

Hi, Cotton,

Ron and Lael told me about your blog. Thanks for the information and your perspective, balanced and wise. I thought I'd be there next month but have postponed until October when I expect to be in Palestine, Israel and Lebanon. I'm hoping there's time for a conversation in June in Williamstown.

Al Miller