Friday afternoon is a time for getting ready for Shabbat, physically (cleaning the house, cooking, etc.) and spiritually (changing mental gears, reading, meditating, or I like doing yoga or running to clear my mind).
Yesterday I went for a pre-Shabbat run — but my destination was not particularly "Shabbos-dik." I ran over to the weekly demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah. Sheikh Jarrah is a neighborhood in Arab East Jerusalem, north of the Damascus Gate, across from Mea Shearim. It has been the site of protests because Muslims have been evicted from homes their families have been living in for a long time — in some cases as long as 50 years — and Jews have been allowed to move in. It's all part of efforts certain right wing groups are pushing (with cooperation from the Jerusalem government) to "Judaize" areas of Arab East Jerusalem to create "facts on the ground" and make it more difficult to redivide Jerusalem into Arab and Jewish sections — in other words to allow a future Palestinian state to include East Jerusalem, which is overwhelmingly Muslim. Wikipedia has a good description of the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which you can read here.
The Jews base their claims on Ottoman (Turkish) era documents that purport to show Jewish ownership of the properties in question. I say purport, because other sources say the documents only show the Jews as renters, not as owners. But based on that documentation, an Israeli court ruled that the Jews can have possession of the property.
So far, you may be saying, OK, so what's the problem? If the courts ruled that the property was owned by Jews, why shouldn't the Jews be able to move back there? The reason is the law is not applied in an even-handed fashion. There are MANY Arab residents of East Jerusalem who have clear title to properties in West Jerusalem. The Israeli government confiscated those properties on the grounds that the owners "abandoned" them when they fled for their lives in the '48 war.
It's not fair to say that Jews who abandoned their property should be able to get it back, but Muslims who abandoned their property cannot. If the Israeli government wants to say that the Jews can get their property back there is no moral justification for saying that Arabs should not be able to get their property back. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Jews especially should not be "pigs."
Personally, I think the courts and the government are making a huge mistake with this. Since the law should be applied evenly — the Torah commands us "mishpat echad yiyeh lachem," you shall have one law, for the citizen and the resident — it's better to live with the status quo. It would be highly disruptive, and wildly expensive, if all of a sudden everyone who thought they had ownership of property established over a sixty year period suddenly found they did not actually own their homes.
Yossi Sarid, former MK and minister, published an excellent article in Haaretz titled "Jerusalem is starting to resemble Tehran." I recommend his article highly. His conclusion is the same as mine: what's happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not fair. It's an injustice, and it's counter-productive to efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
And that's why I felt I needed to add my presence to those at the demonstration. Woody Allen once said 90% of life is showing up. Nowhere, I suppose, is that more true than at a demonstration. The way you vote and express your support is just by showing up.
You'll notice that in the picture, people are making a clear effort to stay on the sidewalk. That's because there was no permit for the gathering (the police refused to issue one), but the courts ruled that you don't need a permit if you stay off the street, don't block traffic, and aren't giving political speeches. So chanting is OK; speeches aren't. Lauri suggested giving speeches in chant. I'd estimate there were about 300 demonstrators, maybe a dozen counter-demonstrators, 50 cops, and 25 or 30 journalists. Despite a report in Haaretz (Police vow to squash East Jerusalem protest) that the police planned to use force to break up the demonstration at 3:30, it was still going strong by the time I had to literally "run" to get back home in time for Shabbat at about 4:10.
The demonstrators were chanting "ein kedusha b'ir k'vusha," "there is no holiness is an occupied city," (a reference to Jerusalem as "ir hakodesh," the holy city) and "Jews opposed to evicting people from their homes." I was glad to see several other rabbis there, despite the inconvenient pre-Shabbat timing. One of my rabbinic colleagues said he wasn't there so much to protest what was happening with the houses — although he opposed that — as much as to defend the right of free speech. He was outraged by the police attempts to squash the demonstrations.
The only momentary tension I saw was when some young ladies crossed the street to give flowers to the police, and some people started following them, and some of the organizers yelled at the crowd to get back on the sidewalk, they didn't want to give the police any excuses to arrest people.
The demonstrators vow to show up every week until the Arab families are allowed back into their homes.
You can be sure this is not the last you'll hear of Sheikh Jarrah. God willing, the protests will stay peaceful, and will eventually be effective.