Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Confrontations with Settlers and Police in Sheikh Jarrah

Two days ago settlers occupied a vacant Palestinian home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, demolished one of the walls, and began reconstruction on it.

Yesterday, a group of Palestinian, international, and Israeli activists gathered at the house for a demonstration. We were confronted at first by armed settler security and within a minute by Jerusalem municipality police. Soon border police also arrived on the scene and began shoving activists. The demonstrators demanded to know why the police were protecting illegal settlers who were defying an Israeli court order to stop construction (the Israeli court didn't demand that they left, because its a legal system that defends the settlement movement).

Every few minutes the police would escort the settlers through the crowd to get more materials for the house and would beat protesters as they tried to prevent the settlers from re-entering the house. This was an obvious provocation not only to us but to the Palestinian neighbors whose houses were really close to the occupied house. When protesters began to become more vocal and noisy, the police responded by brutalizing us and arresting a Palestinian woman. In the process, several people were choked, beaten, and stomped on by police. One person was momentarily detained.

After the scuffles, there was a brief standoff as the demonstrators refused to leave until the settlers did. Eventually they were escorted out by police, though the settler security (some of whom were armed with automatic weapons) stayed behind the police line (you can see them in light grey shirts--though the dark grey shirts are border police).

Soon a Palestinian man came over to us and told us that the police had given him an order telling him that he had to vacate his house for two weeks in order to keep the settlers safe. This was quite ironic given the number of private armed settler security and the fact that the settlers themselves were carrying weapons. He also told us that one of the settlers threatened to shoot him.

His family was quite disconcerted and his wife told us that he had 5 children who might be at risk of settler violence once he left the house. he only had 4 hours to take everything he needed and say goodbye to his family. He decided not to resist the order, though we told him we would support any decision he made. We were invited in for tea in the house and had just sat down when one of our group received a call from a Palestinian that settlers were trying to force their way into a house and the Palestinian family was resisting.

We dropped our tea and went running down several streets before coming upon a mob of Heradim/Settlers (some of whom had automatic weapons strapped to their backs) who were pushing their way into the back wall of a house. The men of the family were shoving them back. As soon as we arrived, the settlers retreated back and we formed a ring around where the house was. There was an intense showdown and police and ambulances showed up ready for what could be a possible fight.
The Heradim/settlers backed down and we pulled back into the house. A full scale battle was everted and so far the two other houses up for eviction haven't been evicted. Sheikh Jarrah is really tense right now and anything can happen.

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