Jewish-American Protester Hurt by Israeli Cops: I'm Proud to Be Jewish, but Occupation Is Not Judaism

Veteran activist Sarah Brammer-Shlay may need surgery for the broken upper arm she suffered when police dispersed demonstrators at the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March

Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a protester whose arm was broken by police in Jerusalem on May 24, 2017.
Leanne Gale

A young American Jew whose arm was broken by the police on Jerusalem Day Wednesday says this was the “most violently” she has ever been treated at a demonstration.

Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a 25-year-old native of Minneapolis, said doctors at Hadassah University Hospital told her she had a fracture above her left elbow and faced a 50 percent chance of needing surgery.

She and about 50 other people were protesting Wednesday at the annual Flag March, a high-profile event on Jerusalem Day, when Israel celebrates the capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Brammer-Shlay told Haaretz that about 20 of the protesters were linking arms trying to block the Old City from the flag marchers, when the police started pushing them to the ground. Once on the ground, they linked arms again and the police started dragging them off, some being choked while they were dragged.

She said the police then threw protesters on top of one another within a small area fenced off by metal barricades. The police then tried removing her from the caged-off area.

“They pulled my left arm; I heard and felt my arm pop and I knew something horrible had happened,” she said. “I was screaming ‘my arm, my arm,’” she said, noting that she “was having trouble walking, my arm hurt so badly.”

Protesters at the Flag March on Jerusalem Day, May 24, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The police did not respond to a Haaretz request for comment.

Brammer-Shlay, one of the founders of the Washington chapter of the anti-occupation group IfNotNow, was the coordinator of the IfNotNow protest at the AIPAC conference in Washington last March. She moved to Washington after graduating from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2012.

Brammer-Shlay has been involved in social activism in the United States and Jewish activism since college, mostly concerning domestic American issues.

She says that at protests in the United States there’s a protocol; the police normally warn demonstrators about what they are going to do. On Wednesday, such warnings were rare, Brammer-Shlay said.

“There was no sense of control by the police officers,” she said. “They looked so angry. You don’t need to break my arm to stop me from linking arms with somebody. It was apparent that they didn’t care.”

Brammer-Shlay, who has also been a trip leader for the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, is currently studying Hebrew in Israel. In the fall she will start studying at rabbinical school to become a Reconstructionist rabbi.

A member of the Border Police dragging off a protester on Jerusalem Day, May 24, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

“They say Israel is here to protect Jews, and that’s not true,” she said. “It’s here to protect a system of occupation. When Jews push back against the system they are no longer protected. If this were a Palestinian protest, I’m sure the injuries would be worse than a broken arm.”

As Brammer-Shlay put it, “I’m going to rabbinical school. I’m very proud to be Jewish and I’m devoted to the Jewish community. And I also know that the occupation is not Judaism .... But today I think the biggest crisis facing the American Jewish community is our support for the occupation.”

According to Leanne Gale, the spokeswoman for the protest Wednesday, three organizations took part: IfNotNow, its Israeli counterpart All That’s Left, and Free Jerusalem, which describes itself as a solidarity group of Jewish Israelis working with Palestinian partners to combat the occupation in East Jerusalem.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time local Jews and Diaspora Jews have put their bodies on the line to prevent the violence of the march of flags from imposing itself on the Palestinian residents of the Old City,” Gale said.