Everyday repression in Jerusalem

December 26, 2009
Richard Kuper

haaretzDaphna Golan, Everyone can drum 22 December 2009

Followed by David Shulman’s emailed report on the Christmas Day Protest March in Sheikh Jarrah

During the first and last days of Hanukkah, the Jerusalem police arrested drummers and clowns who believe in nonviolence, coexistence and equality between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.

At noon on the last day of Hanukkah we marched, about 20 people, down Hanevi’im Street. The atmosphere was so relaxed that near the old stone building that houses the Ministry of Education, I thought about the civics classes the education minister had promised would be taught in schools. Perhaps he would begin the lessons with the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, a quarter million strong, who are not Israeli citizens, who live in an occupied territory annexed by the State of Israel contrary to international law.

They have Israeli identity cards, but they are considered only permanent residents. And even that is a temporary status: Those who travel abroad to study or are stuck on the other side of the wall (like tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem) lose their right to live in the city.

As we sang, I thought that perhaps the education minister would tell the children the story of Musrara, the neighborhood in which his office is situated, and where until 1948, Arabs lived in the beautiful homes that Jews now inhabit. We were on our way to Sheikh Jarrah, to the homes where Palestinian families were evicted onto the street.

The court authorized Jewish families to come live in those homes instead, since before 1948, the homes belonged to a Jewish organization. How will the education minister explain that Arabs are forbidden to claim the homes they abandoned in 1948 – in Musrara, Talbieh, Katamon and all the beautiful neighborhoods where only Jews live today – but Jews are allowed to claim their former homes?

We sang to a samba beat; the drums set the beat and made us merry. And then, dozens of police arrived in huge vehicles, along with others riding horses, and forcibly dragged away my son and his drummer friends. The police did not explain; they refused to identify themselves; they gave us no reason for the arrest. Two hours later, at Sheikh Jarrah, police attacked the clowns and the drummers and arrested 20 of the Israelis who sat down and said “no more” to racism in Jerusalem.

Altogether, 50 were arrested over the course of a day and a half. In custody, they sang Hanukkah songs and peace songs, and after being released, they continued to drum and sing in the square outside the court. Their drums are still being held.

The Israel Police arrests drums and drummers in order to keep order. And order in Jerusalem means that Jews are by law more equal than Arabs. The Jerusalem Municipality awards the third of its citizens who are Palestinian less than 14 percent of its budget, and its declared policy is segregation and discrimination: the construction of Jewish neighborhoods on land expropriated from Palestinians, the razing of Palestinian homes that were built without a permit, the building of Jewish but not Palestinian schools, the creation of Jewish settlements, protected by security guards and police, in the middle of Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The policy of “preserving a demographic majority” means as few Palestinians in Jerusalem as possible, and as many Jews as possible.

This is the crux of Israel’s entire policy. And the police arrest drummers so that the voices challenging this racist order are silenced.

Everyone has a pot that can be used as a drum. Sometimes, it is deep in the cupboard. Sometimes, it seems impossible to reach it.

But everyone can drum – drum in order to wake us all up and suggest that we can do things differently. Drum for Jews and Arabs to have a shared life in Jerusalem.

David Shulman writing on 25 December 2009: Christmas in Sheikh Jarrah

This time I was sure they’d arrest me—I’d somehow eluded them, without trying to do so, the last three times I was here for the Friday demonstration—but once again it didn’t happen. Maybe I’m too old? Last week they clearly went after the young people. Gabi was standing next to his son, Boaz, who was arrested (though he had done nothing to deserve the honor); Gabi asked the policemen to take him, too, but they refused and pushed him rudely away. It’s almost insulting. We had 27 arrestees who spent the Shabbat as guests of the police in the appalling detention cells in the Russian Compound.

Anyway, I came prepared, with the Phaedrus in my pocket. “That’s some dialogue,” Amiel says to me, “but I’m not sure you’ll be reading it under optimal conditions.” He’s worried: the police have cordoned off Sheikh Jarrah, and they’re also making unpleasant noises about our march through town, even though this demonstration is completely legal, permit and all. Many policemen stand watching us as we gather on King George Street and start handing out the large placards inscribed in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Bernie gets an Arabic one: “Stop the settlement in Sheikh Jarrah!” It’s a considerable improvement, he says, on the sign he made for himself at his first political demonstration, as President of Hillel, in the 60’s in Montreal. That one read: “Cultural Imperialism Retards the Dialectic.” Hm. Times have changed. Not sure I could march to the barricades under that banner. I’m given a small red plastic horn, purchased in south Hebron, and told to blow it in time with the drums.

Today’s march through town is mostly easy. Last week people threw rotten eggs, and there were some slaps and punches, too. I get soaked by a sudden deluge from a window on the second floor of one of the houses en route. It’s actually almost welcome in the afternoon sun; I look up and see the man who drenched me gloating, happy that he’s found a target. The atmosphere, as in earlier weeks, is carnivalesque. Of course we’re here, as everyone knows, on serious business—getting more serious every week; there are, we are told, another 25 Palestinian families slated for expulsion from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. But the protest is taking off, and every week there are more demonstrators: some 250 today right at the start, with more joining us as we approach the site of eviction. The police have clearly fanned the flames, probably doubled the crowd, by their all-too-predictable attempts to quell the protest by force. I suppose no one ever really learns from experience.

We stand at the edge of the somber street in Sheikh Jarrah, almost in sight of the stolen houses; and as we chant our cries and slogans, the arrests begin, this time from deep inside the crowd. Plainclothes Shabak (Israel Security Agency—Secret Service) agents, milling among us, grab the activists who spent last weekend, or the one before, in jail. As it happens, in court this week the judge cancelled the police ruling banning these volunteers from Sheikh Jarrah for thirty days. Apparently, the police didn’t get the message; or maybe they didn’t want to get it. Maybe someone higher up gave them an order to disregard the court’s ruling. Or maybe they’re just angry at being mocked, or even—a happy thought—a little jealous. Perhaps they’d prefer to join the protest party; I’m sure it’s much more fun that what they’re up to. Still, there’s something terrifying about an arrest that happens like that, when a stranger, anonymous, unmarked, suddenly turns against you and starts beating you in fury as he pushes you through the crowd toward the waiting patrol cars. First Amiel is captured, then Koby, then another six; Sarah waves a copy of the judgment in the face of the Shabaknik who is trying to arrest her, but he is utterly uninterested in this document; miraculously, she escapes his clutches and disappears. Leah, our lawyer, is with us, and for once she is reassuring—the police can’t hold them in jail for disobeying an order that has been rescinded. I hope she’s right.

I think something new is happening in Jerusalem. I see it in the young people who bear the brunt of this demonstration, who organize it and lead it and cheerfully face the Border Police and the blue police and, much worse, the clandestine Shabak operators week after week. Once again, many of my students are here. They, I am sure, are our future, and I trust them to see it through. They are clearly feeling the bizarre happiness that so often floods you at such moments—the happiness that naturally flows from saying “no” to self-evident evil. Hence the drummers and the clowns and, specially for today, the Santa Clauses in brilliant red and even one masquerading demonstrator dressed in an Israeli Army uniform painted totally white, his face and hair also white—the soldiers and the police seem particularly troubled and angered by him and, not unexpectedly, try to arrest him, but I think he manages to get away. As before, the police head for the drummers. As Natasha says to me—she grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia—it’s like in totalitarian regimes; they’re always afraid of drummers, of festive resistance, of the disorder and freedom of masquerade. So, naturally, last week in Sheikh Jarrah they arrested the clowns; you can see an eloquent picture by going to www.flickr.com/photos/activestills/4194680695.

In a way the whole deep foolishness and wrong are present in that moment. It’s one thing to arrest peace activists like our Ta’ayush veterans, or even to swoop down at random on non-violent demonstrators, many of them young students, many young women, and drag them off to the police vans. But to attack and arrest a clown? Probably from the beginning of human civilization, clowns play out the essence of our freedom and embody, as no one else, the very possibility of speaking truth. They’re also given to a volatile playfulness and an irreducible, insouciant innocence, the true enemies of earnest repression. There is simply no witness like a clown, no one better equipped to plumb the depths of our sadness. Now look closely at the two grim policemen firmly grasping their prey: could anyone look more ridiculous than they? Think of the immense daring, the superhuman courage one needs to arrest a clown. Only a country, or a city, intent upon a great crime would send its soldiers to do battle with clowns. And since, despite my early morning gloom, I’m in an ever-so-slightly optimistic frame of mind after today’s demonstration, after the drums and the masque and the sweet shared moments of defiance, let me follow this hopeful thought as far as it takes me, a Christmas gift for those among us who celebrate this day. Deadly earnestness, for all the vast and brutal machinery that underpins it, is ultimately a disease with a rather poor prognosis. In the end, the clowns—we, that is—will win.

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