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Occupation magazine - Activism
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The Sheikh Jarrah activists: a new path for the Left
By: Ronen Medzini
5 March 2010
[Middle East News Service comments: Last night’s Jerusalem demonstration marked the coming of age of a new force on the Israeli Left. Various commentators in the Israeli media and blogosphere have been remarking recently about these “new young people” who do not belong to any existing formation. This article by Ynet’s Ronen Medzini is the best one I have seen so far. It’s been a long time since there were reasons for optimism in discussing the Israeli Left – Sol Salbe.]
A small bunch of youngsters devoid of any legal experience succeeded in stymieing the Jerusalem police and force it to accept a large demonstration. “This is just another instance of the struggle against the Occupation, racism and discrimination”, they say. On the Left they are already being spoken of as the new hope.
What started out as a march of 20 youngsters protesting the entry of Jewish settlers into an East Jerusalem neighbourhood, has over the past few months turned into a political phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Several hundred activists, intellectuals and politicians gather every Friday at noon in order to demonstrate against “the major wrongdoing”. The strong-arm attitude displayed by the police only reinforced the struggle. It turned the struggle from a marginal cause to a symbolic centre that serves as a focal point for Leftists from around the country. They even dragged the State into the High Court of Justice. There they achieved a milestone when the judges authorised a large demonstration for Saturday night.
The legal achievement can be credited to three students who were devoid of any previous experience in the legal sphere. One of them is Avner Inbar (29), a Ph D student in Philosophy at Chicago University who told Ynet about the petition’s course. “ We soon realised that we could not afford the services of a lawyer so we decided to write the petition ourselves. We spent two-or three days churning through it, in an intensive fashion, day and night. We studied the subject. We read previous judgment on the subject of freedom of assembly. We went down to the site to photograph the relevant area. We took down affidavits from demonstrators and neighborhood residents and wrote down the petition.
When it became clear that the police had no intention to authorise the demonstration the struggle deepened. “We planned a major event for Saturday night”, Avner Inbar told us. “The police’s refusal was immediate and was not accompanied by any explanation or reasoning – even though they are obliged by law to provide those. We recognised that this was a police campaign against the protest on site. We presented the petition on Sunday and by Thursday we were already representing ourselves. According to him, this self-representation typifies the Sheikh Jarrah struggle – unorganised, independent and not tied to any institutions.
The struggle will continue till the Occupation ends
Behind the subversive struggle that has managed repeatedly to stymie the Jerusalem Police stands a group of young people in their 20s. They have been active for about a year and a half now, with no budget , expertise or experience, and with no lawyers or political parties standing behind them. At the currently, encouraged by the success of the campaign at the High Court of Justice, they are promising to continue the struggle. “The struggle will go on as long as the objective, which is the end of the Occupation, has not been realised.”
Sahar Vardi, one of the initiators of the struggle, a 19-year-old woman from Jerusalem: “It started about a year and a half ago, when the al-Kurd family was evicted from their home. It was a small struggle, in a protest tent,” she recalls. Last August, with the eviction of two more families into whose homes Jewish settlers were installed, the struggle was renewed. “We were a group of activists who came to Sheikh Jarrah quite a lot, and we became more deeply involved activists on the issue.”
“After the last eviction in November we had a meeting and we raised ideas about what could be done – one of them was to hold a march. Within a week and a half we began – there were about 20 of us, and we marched from Zion Square to the neighbourhood. A week later we were joined by drummers, and there were about 40 of us. Then we began to send invitations more broadly,” she relates.
Over 100 people showed up at the next demonstration, and then the police moved into action and arrested people for the first time. “It was publicised somewhere, and that gave more impetus to the struggle. We got press coverage, and people became more aware of the issue.” Since then several hundred leftists have showed up at every demonstration, including intellectuals and politicians. Among the demonstrators can be found David Grossman, former Knesset Members Avraham Burg and Yossi Sarid, “but the vast majority are students from Jerusalem,” say the activists.
This is only one example of the struggle against the Occupation
The initiators of the struggle come from a different background. Vardi is one of the first signers of the letter of the Shministim who refused to join the IDF, and she has been an activist for Palestinian rights for years now. Another leader of the struggle, Maya Wind (20), comes from a background of human rights activism.
In a conversation with Ynet, Wind says that she had not imagined that the protest would gain so much momentum. “If you had told me six months ago that half the country would know about Sheikh Jarrah, I would have laughed,” she said. “We started out as a group of five or six activists in the neighbourhood – we just went to live in the neighbourhood for a certain period. Our struggle is very popular, dynamic and spontaneous, and more supporters join us all the time. We have a kind of permanent committee with neighbourhood residents – we meet once a week for brainstorming, planning demonstrations and joint thinking. It’s amazing to me that we managed to create a joint struggle like this,” she added.
According to Wind, the struggle has several objectives, which are not restricted to the tense neighbourhood. “The first and main objective is to bring about justice in the neighbourhood itself, to prevent further evictions, to return evicted families to their homes and to freeze the settlement enterprise there. But it’s not only Sheikh Jarrah, this is one of many struggles for the liberation of East Jerusalem and Palestine. Sheikh Jarrah is just another example of the struggle against the Occupation, racism and discrimination, and we raise many questions for the Israeli justice system about how it should relate to Jews and Palestinians,” she explained.
The vacuum on the Left is being filled
The young people involved in the struggle say that the main source of satisfaction is the feeling that they have succeeded in breaking the traditional small circle of the Left in Israel. And indeed, the past few months have given the impression that the vacuum that had been created on the Left is slowly being filled. “This is the best thing that has happened to the Israeli Left in recent years,” Mossi Raz, former Meretz MK and a regular demonstrator at Sheikh Jarrah, told Ynet. “They are without a doubt the biggest hope today for the struggle against the Occupation and for a more just society.”
“Sheikh Jarrah has already become the beginning of a new path for the Left. We have not seen a young and steadfast group like this in many years,” adds Raz. “They’re not getting paid, they don’t belong to any organisation or party. They’re just principled people who are standing firmly against the terrible injustice of throwing people into the street – and the Israeli stupidity of putting settlers into an Arab neighbourhood. The struggle will succeed, period. Even if it takes years and they bring in more settlers and there are further injustices. It cannot be otherwise. The State of Israel will not survive if it does not stop the Occupation. These guys deserve a prize,” concludes the former MK.
Translated from the Hebrew by George Malent and Sol Salbe. Please note that as the largest single group of my readers is in Australia this article confirms to standard Australian English. George Malent may distribute it in North American spelling.
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