What is happening at Sheikh Jarrah? Could it be the start of a serious coalition between the human rights activists and the shearit ha-pletah, the remaining few, of the Zionist left? Will the Jerusalem winter dampen the spirits and the enthusiasm, not of the activists – they will always be there – but of the academics, professionals, upper middle class Ashkenazim (in short, my crowd), who are thinking of joining the protests? Is the main story simply one of police brutality against protesters — or the state’s evicting Palestinians from their homes and turning them over to settlers? And will the protests grow?
There are encouraging signs. J-Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami released a strong statement not only against the police harassment and denial of basic civil liberties, but against several recent governmental actions that infringe on civil liberties. He writes on Sheikh Jarrah:
As J Street has stated before, this is hardly the time to open up the question of pre-1948 property ownership on either side of the Green Line, or to bring strident settler groups, such as Ateret Cohanim, to an East Jerusalem neighborhood that previous negotiations designated as part of a future Palestinian capital. J Street stands together with the protesters in opposition to unilateral actions in East Jerusalem that only set back the chances for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are an affront to traditional Jewish conceptions of justice and fairness. (emphasis added)
There you have it: pragmatism and principle, peace and justice, clearly stated by an organization that views itself as Zionist. The Torah can certainly go forth from Washington, DC. (You may think of encouraging their position through a donation here.)
Will the discourse continue to change? What will happen if and when the police get smart and allow demonstrations under certain (limiting) conditions? Is Sheikh Jarrah the next Bil’in, only with a broader base?
For years, the Zionist left was associated with Tel-Aviv. Jerusalem represented the three groups that the Tel-Avivim tried to avoid: religious Jews, mizrahim, and Arabs.
Now, Jerusalem is the center of human rights activism in Israel. From Jerusalem one can travel North to Bil’in and Ni’ilin, south to Maasara and the Hebron Hills, and be back by the onset of Shabbat (at least during the summer). Heck, you can even walk to Sheikh Jarrah. From Jerusalem you can tour Hebron with Bnei Avraham.
The conditions are ripe for the protest: an ultra-right wing government, an ultra-right wing mayor (whom I did not support, contrary to some of my liberal yuppie neighbors), a hyper-active rightwing settler movement devoted to make Jerusalem “Araberrein,” a clear case of injustice in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan, in…oh, just about everywhere. Let’s not forget that Jerusalem is home to young Jews who are studying in Israel for a year at universities and non-orthodox seminaries, folks with plenty of time on their hands, who don’t have to prepare that much for Friday night meals.
There is good potential for the protests to grow. A little divine help (siyata di-shmaya) wouldn’t hurt.