Monday, June 14, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah Movement In Crisis

I've just returned to Jerusalem, after a couple of weeks in the US, to find the Sheikh Jarrah leadership contending with a problem that has been building for weeks, but suddenly seems a full-blown crisis. There is no flagging of their determination, and the cause is as catalyzing as ever--perhaps more than ever. But the Jerusalem police has been using their unchecked authority to bring charges against leading activists--charges the courts have routinely thrown out, but which have resulted in crushing legal costs for these young people, some of whom are graduate students with small children. I have just donated to their defense fund and I appeal to readers of this blog to do the same. You may do so here. I like to think that, every now and then, you've felt a twinge of guilt that you've been getting these posts for free, and even free of distracting web ads. Now is your chance to repay the effort. And please send this appeal to three friends. Let's get something going.

Here is the letter one of the activists, Avner Inbar, prepared for distribution:

Between August 2008 and November 2009, 4 Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. 24 families still face imminent threat of eviction. These Palestinians are all former refugees who escaped their erstwhile houses during the 1948 war. Arriving in then Jordanian ruled East Jerusalem, these 28 families waived their UN refugee cards in exchange for the right to build houses on a vacant lot in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

After Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, a Jewish organization which owned the land prior to the ’48 war reclaimed ownership over their new houses. The families, however, were not allowed to regain ownership over their former properties in Israel. Indeed, while Israel’s “Absentee Properties Law” officially strips Palestinians of ownership rights over their pre-1948 properties, Jews are free to reclaim possession of pre-48 assets. And this inequality before the law is responsible for the current crisis in Sheikh Jarrah.

The small struggle for the rights of the Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem is quickly turning into a vibrant social movement. Each Friday, hundreds of protesters from all over Israel congregate in the small neighborhood, standing shoulder to shoulder with the local Palestinians. On March 6th, more than 4,000 people descended on the neighborhood for one of the largest and most inspiring Israeli-Palestinian rallies in recent history. Due to the growing momentum of these protests, Israelis can no longer turn a blind eye to their government’s irrational and immoral policy of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem, and the international community, led by the White House, is finally taking a resolute stance on this key issue. Many commentators in Israel and around the world view what came to be known as the Sheikh Jarrah Movement as the new promise for the Israeli peace camp.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli authorities have not remained silent in the face of this burgeoning movement. More than 120 activists have been arrested since December 2009 and the Jerusalem Police is now beginning to press charges against dozens of them on the pretext of “illegal assembly.” The crackdown had recently escalated when policemen arrived at the doorstep of one of the activists during the Shabbat dinner, taking the activist into custody without legal warrant. On Friday, May 14th, dozens of activists sat on the road opposite the police barrier blocking them from entering the neighborhood in an inspiring act of non-violent civil disobedience. The police reacted with extreme violence, breaking arms and ribs, and arrested 14 activists.

Even though the legality of the Sheikh Jarrah protests had been repeatedly reaffirmed by three panels of the Israeli court, the police are unyielding in their attempt to crush them. And, while we are confident that the court will continue to uphold our right to protest against the intolerable injustice of the occupation, the Jerusalem Police’s politically motivated war of legal attrition against the Sheikh Jarrah movement is taking its toll on the activists.

Legal costs are mounting. The much appreciated voluntary work of a few dedicated lawyers is no longer sufficient to counter the upcoming wave of indictments or to enable the activists to appeal against Police persecution. And so, while we have been able to launch and maintain this struggle without funds or institutional support, we must turn to you for help at this crucial moment. We are in desperate need of a legal fund in order to defray the costs of supplying more than 120 activists with the appropriate legal defense, and to continue our string of legal victories against an overly politicized Police.

What is more, the growth of the Sheikh Jarrah movement entails rapidly growing expenses. At the moment, our inability to pay for buses from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel result in much small demonstrations than are currently possible. Donations for transportation will help us turn these demonstrations into increasingly influential mass events.


Avner has also provided a breakdown of the movement's expenses:

Legal costs per arrestee: $2,500. Cost of currently pending cases: $60,000 (2 unified cases + 20 individual cases). Many more cases are awaiting arraignment hearings with the good possibility that there will be further indictments.

Cost of back and forth bus from Tel Aviv: $500. We aim to bring 2 busses of demonstrators per week. Heretofore, these were funded by the demonstrators themselves and the sale of T-shirts. However, bus fare is too expensive for many demonstrators to come each week, and most of the regulars already own T-shirts (or several). We need to provide transportation to keep the regular demonstrators coming and to enlarge the numbers that can attend. Estimated monthly transportation costs: $4000

Overall costs for the next 6 months: $84,000


Avner can be reached directly at avner_inbar@yahoo.com. Anyone who can contribute significant amounts, or knows somebody who can, please contact him immediately. Or, again, you may contribute $50, $100, $200 or more here.