On Resistance: The Sheikh Jarrah situation as a small sign of hope
[This article was originally written for the Scottish Palestinian Forum.]
“You have to be totally blind not to see what is happening here,” exclaimed David Grossman, one of Israel’s most famous authors, to the excited Sheikh Jarrah crowd through a megaphone in mid April. Around him were well known faces from the Israeli establishment, including former Speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, and other former MP’s and Israeli supporters. Prominent, as every Friday, were members of the Ghawi, al Kurd and Hannoun families, homeless after the settlers had taken over their homes, and, as always, members of the Jerusalem Team of EAPPI. [A good summary of the background of Sheikh Jarrah is available here.]
Signs fluttered in the spring sunshine: “We will not be enemies,” said some. Two Israelis held up: ‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed, and found a city on iniquity!’ (Habakkuk 2:12). At the same time, the circle of drummers kept up the mood and tempo of the gathering as well as the pace of the chanting.
“In the absence of all hope, we cry out a cry of hope,” proclaimed the recently launched Kairos Palestine: “A Moment of Truth” document. And in Sheikh Jarrah that hope seems palpable in these days. Friday after Friday, voices of conscience from the Palestinian, Israeli and international community gather near the homes of those who have been evicted (the lines of ordinary police and riot police keep everyone far away from the actual houses which they and the Israeli courts have assisted the settlers in possessing).
The drums and rhythmic chants echo along the street. This movement is reinvigorating the Israeli peace bloc and giving new life and direction to it. Avraham Burg wrote recently: “The circle is expanding and it is full of life, rage and hope. Israeli humanism has been reborn in East Jerusalem…seeking both Shabbat and peace…We stand and pledge: We shall not be silent when Ahmad and Aysha are sleeping in the street outside their home, which has become the settlers’ domain. Is that justice? Not ours! Is that law? No, it is iniquity.”
Sheikh Jarrah is a small sign of hope, but it is not isolated. It is part of movement of resistance which is deeply unsettling the Israeli authorities. Look to Bil’in, to Ni’lin, to Beit Sahour and beyond, and see the movement of non-violent response from within the heart of the communities here, Palestinian and Israeli, growing and shaping their own direction and rejection of the occupation. The Israeli government sanctioned violence (tear gas, sound bombs, bullets) against such non-violent witnesses emphasises their fear that from small beginnings a great movement might grow.
After church on Sunday, worshippers in Beit Sahour (where a tax revolt in the first intifada brought a harsh Israeli response in 1989) head off to Ush Ghraib on the edge of the town, in Area C, where the Israeli military forces have rebuilt a dismantled military base. The church people, joined by other local and international supporters, have been processing after church on Sunday to resist the re-occupation of the area – which had been planned as a new site for a hospital and which sits right beside one of the last open spaces in the area which has been in the process of being developed into recreational spot for children, youth and families with football field and climbing wall (the Israeli forces have ordered a halt to further work on the development). It was here in 2000 that 350 Palestinians and internationals walked straight into the military camp as a protest against the occupation (and which gave the ISM movement its impetus).
Kairos Palestine declared: “Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy.” In Sheikh Jarrah, in Bil’in, in Beit Sahour, Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of other religions or none are joining in creative resistance to the evils which are being practised in each of these communities. There are formidable forces arrayed against them, forces quite willing to use violence and brutality, but in solidarity there is strength and determination to oppose the evils of occupation. In creative resistance, there is a strengthening of morale. In collective action, there is a bolstering of hope. And hope is much needed to give encouragement to all non-violent resistance that one day justice will prevail and right will overcome might.