by Robin Bishop
On my way to university in Amsterdam I cycle past ‘the dam’, the central square in the city. This is also the square where they have many protests on all sorts of issues. I sometimes glance at the protest but it never bothers me, or let me put it this way ‘it never fazes me’. I always see some sort of media attention so I always assume the protestors are getting their message across.
Here in Israel I have heard other protest experiences. Protestors getting arrested, shot at with tear gas and shot at with rubber bullets. This seemed quite an extreme reaction to the ‘non-violence’ way of protesting that everyone here seems to be practicing.
I have never protested before simply because I have never been so exposed to a situation as I am now. Four weeks has shown me what is happening in this country, how the Palestinians are being oppressed and being denied basic human rights. How they are being literally ‘removed’ from their houses. In Sheikh Jarrah that is exactly what is happening. Palestinians are being forcefully removed from their homes with no legitimate reason. They are given no suitable alternative place to live and have to resort to sleeping in tents or with family and neighbors. If that is not bad enough they get to watch settlers happily move into their homes only moments after they were evicted.
This is not only happening in Sheikh Jarrah but all over the Palestinian territories. The demonstration was thus in solidarity with all the Palestinians who are under occupation. I had heard here and there that it was an illegal demonstration or that only Arabs would be arrested. To be honest I wasn’t nervous at all, they were expecting over 3000 people, which would naturally attract a lot of media. The last thing the Israeli government wants would be bad media so I expected the protest to be extremely peaceful. And so it was.
The meeting place was at Jaffa Gate in West-Jerusalem, by 14:15 there was a huge crowd of people, we were all told to pick up flags and posters all provided by the organization. I must say I felt pretty strong with one of the solidarity flags, everyone could see it. What an impact a ‘flag’ actually has if you think about it. The crowd was very diverse; children, babies, teenagers, old people, handicapped people, Jewish, Muslim and the list continues with all the people I could not identify from a first glance.
That was also powerful, that such diverse groups of people had the same ideas and were willing to openly ‘speak’ up about it.
So everyone marched the 3km to Sheikh Jarrah chanting slogans such as ‘When we say apartheid, you say: fight back, fight back’. There were drums, microphones, everything to make our presence known. Photographers climbed up telephone masts, stood on bridges all trying to catch the action.
There was no counter protest, only a few lone protesters waving around their Israeli flags. They seemed quite pathetic, which in actual fact is not true. The IDF and police will protect them at all cost.
I didn’t see any violence from the police or the IDF. It all seemed so relaxed. I asking someone why they don’t do this every week? Or at least more frequently, apparently you need a permit for a large demonstration.
The protest ended at Sheikh Jarrah with speeches from various influential people regarding the solidarity process. Then everyone went home. Does it seem strange to mention it was an anti-climax? Was I hoping for some more ‘action’? I looked through the media the following two days and there was almost no mention in the international media, I was slightly appalled by this. Does the media only want to report about violent protests when things get out of hand? Does violence provoke international intervention? These are the thoughts I was left with.
Nevertheless I was happy to be a part of the protest. It also gave me reassurance that there are thousands of people actively against the occupation.