Friday, April 29, 2011

Sheikh Jarrah


Just back from taking part in the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration. The most important thing to know about what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is that Palestinians are being evicted from their homes and Jews, who claim title to the land are moving in. After Israel's War of Independence, East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah, fell under Jordanian rule. Jews were forced from their homes, and Palestinians moved in. In many cases, Jewish claimants have legal title to the land. So what's the problem? The problem is that it doesn't work both ways. Israeli law prohibits Palestinians, who were forced from their homes in what is now Israel proper, for example in Jaffa, from making the same claim as their Jewish counterparts. In other words, the law is discriminatory.

The people who show up at the weekly demonstrations come at the issue from a variety of perspectives. There is an obvious problem with the law's injustice and the immediate impact on the families who are evicted. There are also very real consequences for the viability of a two-state solution. Under the framework that has been negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians since at least 2001, there is an understanding that  Jerusalem will be shared in some fashion, with Palestinian neighborhoods falling under Palestinian rule and Jewish neighborhoods remaining under Israeli sovereignty. Replacing Palestinian neighborhoods with Jewish ones lessens what one side will receive and increases the other side's take. The oft used analogy is to a negotiation over a pizza, where one side is eating the pizza while he negotiates and the other is too far from the table to reach the pizza. There is also the problem of drawing a border. As Israel gets a Jewish foothold in neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah, it becomes nearly impossible to draw a border allowing for a contiguous Palestinian presence in the West Bank.

I walked over to the demonstration a block or two away from the hotel and started talking to some people beginning to gather. It was a beautiful afternoon with the sun starting to lower but still providing warmth. Palestinian kids were shouting "Tapuzim! Tapuzim!" offering fresh squeezed orange juice for 10 shekels. It felt like a picnic.The first two people I spoke to were Israeli students at Hebrew University. They were involved with Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity, the group that organizes the demonstration. I told them that I was with J Street and they introduced me to Sara Benninga, the group's leader, who was honored at J Street's annual conference in February. I was awed by her smile. If you click the hyperlink you'll know what I mean. We walked a few blocks and stopped in front of buildings that had recently been taken over and chanted in Hebrew, Arabic and English to the beat of a drum. I asked a woman next to me to help translate a word on a sign on one of the buildings. "The Sons Return to Their Borders." Sara then came by and spoke a few words with the woman.

When Sara walked away, the woman said, "That's my daughter."

"Mazel tov," I told her. And Shabbat was that much closer.

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