The Last Line of Decency

JERUSALEM – Every Friday afternoon for more than a year, hundreds of Israeli Jews have gathered on a dusty little square in the middle of Arab East Jerusalem. There are some Palestinians there, too, including a couple of boys selling fresh orange juice. The people gather there, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, to protest the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.

These evictions are humiliating, sometimes violent, and frightening to other Palestinian families – who are in danger of losing their homes as well. Israeli students were the first to organize a protest, known as the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. They were followed by distinguished professors, famous novelists, and a former attorney general, among others.

At first, the Israeli police used force against the protesters, even though such demonstrations are perfectly legal in Israel. This provoked such bad publicity that the police backed off, while still blocking the road to the new settlements. All the demonstrators can do is hold up signs, bang drums, chant slogans, and show solidarity just by turning up.

The background to the evictions is not exactly straightforward. Some Jews did live in the district before they were kicked out in the 1948 war of Israeli independence. Many more Palestinians were kicked out at the same time from neighborhoods in West Jerusalem, and found new homes in areas like Sheikh Jarrah, which came under Jordanian jurisdiction until the Israelis took back East Jerusalem in 1967.