Two Doctoral Students' Journey to Revive the Israeli Left

Assaf Sharon and Avner Inbar have discovered that the struggle over Sheikh Jarrah has become the way to build a bridge connecting Jews and Arabs.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Assaf Sharon and Avner Inbar met 10 years ago when they were involved in a Hebrew University students' group against the occupation. In 2006 both were accepted for doctoral studies in the United States in political philosophy - Sharon at Stanford University and Inbar at the University of Chicago.

Sharon, 35, was born in Tel Aviv to a religious family and is married with two children. Inbar, a native of Jerusalem, is 31 and married. In the summer of 2009 they completed their course and teaching requirements and returned to Israel to write their doctoral theses, on the way to quiet academic careers.

Avner Inbar, left, and Assaf SharonCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The sight of the Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah who were thrown out of their homes onto the street changed the two young men's lives. Every Friday, they have shown up at the outskirts of the Palestinian neighborhood opposite the police checkpoints, distributing stickers saying, "There is no sanctity in an occupied city." They also hand out information brochures and observe the growing group of leftists joining the protest.

The two doctoral students, the religious Tel Avivian and the secular Jerusalemite, have discovered that the struggle over Sheikh Jarrah has become the way to revive the Israeli left and build a bridge connecting Jews and Arabs. They were drawn into the vacuum between Kadima and Hadash left by the failing Labor Party, confused Meretz and somnolent Peace Now.

Storming the campuses

Veteran politicians and peace activists are keeping track of them with a mix of envy and concern. They're storming the campuses, and their friends say they wouldn't be surprised if next year Sharon and Inbar stormed the Knesset.

"The Israeli left has forgotten that politics is more than just expressing a viewpoint or protesting in the city square, it's a concrete struggle for the street in places where the injustice is taking place," says Sharon. He believes that the battle in Sheikh Jarrah exposed in all its cruelty deliberate discrimination against Arabs based on a belief that the Jews deserve more rights.

"We are showing in practice it's possible to establish a genuine partnership between the two peoples," adds Inbar. "The Israeli left's big challenge today is to develop a civil, Jewish-Arab vision that will confront the racist and fundamentalist visions and spectacles being sold by the right."

In recent months the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement has turned into a national movement called Solidarity, like the workers' movement established in Poland 30 years ago. The weekly demonstrations in the small neighborhood have begun to spread to other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Last month they marched in Issawiya in protest against the authorities' harassment of the residents there, and last week they went to Silwan to protest against the removal of a local activist from the village.

Recently the movement has also begun to operate in Taibeh, the Wadi Ara, Lod, Al-Araqib and Beit She'an. Meanwhile, Inbar, Sharon and their friends are setting up three student groups - in Be'er Sheva, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - under the slogan "Solidarity against fascism."

"Our method of operation is to expose people to the situation beneath the surface," says Sharon. "The Israeli majority is not aware that it is trampling the minority."

A bit of preaching

They take people to tour sites where the injustice is taking place and offer them lots of information and a bit of preaching. They seek to build a grassroots movement. They were particularly surprised at the tremendous response to Jewish-Arab activity in the Arab communities.

Recently about 150 movement activists showed up to identify with the residents of the city of Taibeh, who are suffering from administrative harassment like that in Sheikh Jarrah: confiscation of land, demolition of homes, neglect and planning procedures implemented over their heads.

Inbar and Sharon say the residents' excitement at the appearance of three buses full of Israelis from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv made it clear to the Solidarity movement's leaders that the ground is ready for a national Jewish-Arab movement.

We are not romantics, an aid organization or a human rights organization, say the two. We aren't coming to help, but to work together. We go to Taibeh or Dahmash, an unrecognized village next to Lod, in the belief that practical, ethical and political Jewish-Arab cooperation is Israeli society's only life preserver.



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