“Our stage is the street.” “Expressing our solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah is for me a national obligation, a human and universal one.” “We cannot remain silent any longer.”
Before the escalation in the Gaza Strip and the violent events that swept into Israel, thousands of Israeli citizens took to the streets in recent weeks, participating in legal, nonviolent demonstrations in mixed Arab-Jewish cities, Arab towns and at major intersections. In interviews with Haaretz, they lay out the diverse reasons that brought them out into the streets, explaining against whom and what they are protesting.
‘We can’t remain silent about Sheikh Jarrah’
Nadine Badwiyah, 22, Ramle
“We are demonstrating to express our discontent. We’re not interested in violent clashes with the police. We want to express ourselves in a dignified manner, because we can’t remain silent about what is happening in this country. We have to be united and express our unwillingness to accept the malicious actions taking place in Sheikh Jarrah and the violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
How can we remain quiet when worshippers are not allowed to reach their place of worship? I’ve never seen a Jew being forbidden entrance to his place of worship. Why is it legitimate to do that to Muslims? After all, Ramadan is the holiest month of the year. Give them their religious freedom. If this is a democracy, that’s how it should be. Furthermore, there are so many children, women and men here whose only wish was to pray at the mosque. Why attack them? They have nothing to do with what’s going on, they only want to do what they do every year during this month – pray.
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We are also protesting to express our opposition to processes going on in Sheikh Jarrah. A handful of settlers are violating moral injunctions. The people who live there need us to be with them; we’re all together in this struggle.”
‘We’ll demonstrate until evacuation orders are rescinded’
Rawan Basharat, 38, Jaffa
“There is a policy that’s confronting us, the Arab nation. This is a policy designed to uproot people from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Jaffa, leaving them without a thing. There are currently 700 homes with pending evacuation injunctions in this country, hundreds of people whose homes are at risk, who cannot do a thing about it. The government has nothing to offer them.
The solution does not lie with the state. These people will not get a new home from the state. The solution is popular resistance, which is why I’m here out in the street. That’s the only solution. There is no solution by the government or the parliament, they don’t offer a real solution. The only solution will come from the streets, from the people, which is why you now see demonstrations everywhere, in Sheikh Jarrah, in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and all Arab cities. Our solidarity as Arabs is important. International solidarity also helps in putting pressure on decision makers.
We’re here today, and we’ll come back every day. We’ll demonstrate until the evacuation orders are rescinded. I believe there will be a change. In the last election people said that Arab citizens were indifferent, that they wouldn’t come out and vote. But we don’t vote or participate in the democratic game since the Knesset is not our arena. Our arena is the street. That’s where we give voice to what we feel – we won’t remain silent!
Despite all the attempts of the state to divide us, we have solidarity as a nation. Our struggle is one. We’re one people, and this state sees us as an enemy. You can see this in the approach of the police to the settlers, compared to their approach to Arab demonstrators.
‘A national and patriotic obligation’
Sireen Jabareen, 25, Umm al-Fahm, a founder of the United Fahmawi Movement
“I’m constantly demonstrating in Umm al-Fahm, and in the last three weeks I’ve been in Sheikh Jarrah. I was among the first Arab demonstrators to arrive in Sheikh Jarrah and I called on others to come and give their support and show solidarity with the people living there.
Why am I there? Before and above anything else, because it is an expression of basic human solidarity. Moreover, I have a national and patriotic obligation to my people. The first buds of a popular protest movement appeared in Umm al-Fahm over a different matter, in protest against organized crime in Arab communities. This produced a wave of demonstrations and protests which drew people out of their homes. The most buses came from Umm al-Fahm, bringing people to Jerusalem to express their support for Sheikh Jarrah and the worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
In my opinion, there is a direct connection between what is happening in Arab society in Israel and the rampant organized crime, the deliberate incompetence of the police, the robbery of Palestinian land and houses, and the events at Al-Aqsa. We stand by our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.”
‘What’s going on in Sheikh Jarrah is ethnic cleansing’
Miral Amasheh, 22, Isfiyeh
“I’m a Druze, and I’m participating in these demonstrations not because I’m Arab, but because I’m a human being above all. The problem here is not a political or national or religious one. It’s a matter of being humane. In Sheikh Jarrah they’re chasing people out of their homes. Men the age of my grandfather, old women and children. They are being forcibly removed from their homes in order to replace them with foreign settlers, people who weren’t even born here. They are stealing houses that belong to Arabs.
Not only do they steal their houses and cast them out, they are rubbing it in their faces, celebrating with police protection. People from across the country, Jews and Arabs, are coming to stand by their side and protest against what they are seeing. People around the world are also identifying with these protests, using the hashtag “Save Sheikh Jarrah.” What’s happening there is simply ethnic cleansing. That’s unacceptable anywhere and certainly not in a country presenting itself as a democracy.”
‘A cry against a racist policy’
Riwa Nasar, 19, Arabeh
“My friends and I are demonstrating and expressing our solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah because I believe it’s a national duty, a humane and universal one. Our presence and solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah is a cry against the racist policy of the state. I’ve been participating in demonstrations because I’m totally convinced that the occupation is the root of the evil and because I oppose Israel’s settlement policy, the uprooting, the abuse and persecution directed against my people. I’m fighting for my people’s rights, especially after the barbaric escalation by the police. We’ve reached a point where we understand the importance of unity and solidarity.”
‘It’s a second Nakba’
Rajaa Kaidan, 23, Baka al-Garbiyeh
“Because of the events in Jerusalem and at the Al-Aqsa mosque, I believe we have to increase our presence and stand up against the occupation. We’ll show that we won’t go away and we won’t leave the people of Jerusalem alone despite the violence and oppression used against us. Unity is the source of our strength, and through it we’ll defeat the soldiers hiding behind their weapons, the grenades and all the other measures they use to suppress and deter us, to make us fearful for our lives and withdraw our support for the residents of Jerusalem.
We want to stand with the people of Sheikh Jarrah because you can’t contemplate whole families being kicked out of their homes with no compensation. There is no compensation for evicting someone from their home. This is a second Nakba. They say Palestinians are crazy when they oppose the cruelty with protests, but what do you think? Is it OK when some innocent person’s house is stolen and he’s thrown out or occupied just because he’s Palestinian?
‘The young generation wants change’
Lima Abu Fana, 17, Kafr Qara
“I’m demonstrating because it’s my right to do so. In going out on the highway I exercise this right and make my presence felt. Demonstrating is the least I can do for the people I belong to. By demonstrating we exert pressure on those who can have an impact on what’s happening. We don’t get our rights in the most correct manner in this country, even our right to express ourselves is limited. The laws of this country don’t take us into account, they work against us. The most important thing I want is change, and I’m working to bring it about. The young generation which I represent want this. That’s why we’re out on the highways. Through my presence at demonstrations, I state that I’m aware of events around me and that I’m not ignorant, as the other side claims I am.”
‘I won’t let other Arabs be expelled from their homes’
Abdullah, 27, Rahat
“I come to these demonstrations for a simple reason: This is my people. Over the last five years, 11,000 homes were demolished in the Negev, where I live. Entire families found themselves without a roof over their heads, and this is what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. People’s properties are being expropriated even though the land belongs to them.
Just as members of my nation stood beside me during difficult times, I’m doing the same for them. The common reason for all the demolitions and expropriation is that we’re Arabs. No matter how much we fit in, no matter how much we work and help out, we are still Arabs. This is the time to stand by my people and stop police violence against Arabs in Jerusalem. If the troublemakers were Jewish, it wouldn’t be the same.
What happened in Al-Aqsa was also a significant trigger. It is a holy place for Muslims, but beyond that, it provides legitimization for harming Jerusalem, which is holy for all religions, not just for Jews. Jerusalem is holy for me and for Arabs in this country. Our link with our religion should not be assailed, nor our peace during prayer, especially not during this month.
These days more than ever, I feel that the law does not protect us, but acts against us. We deserve to be free in our areas, in our houses and mosques. That’s why I go to demonstrations, protesting the discrimination that arose here, in every aspect of life. I won’t allow more Arabs to be evicted from their homes.”
‘We remain wounded in the collective sense’
Tawfiq Nagar, 28, Haifa
“Netanyahu has no red lines in his battle to remain in power. When the police commissioner says, ‘We showed too much restraint, we’re now taking our gloves off,’ we’re facing very difficult days and it’s not a question of national identity but of values. In his book ‘Curtain of Sand,’ Yigal Allon wrote that a people that does not know its history has a poor present and an uncertain future. Stop for a moment and look at your past. Only that way can you draw the most important conclusion.
We’ve remained wounded as a collective, waiting for the wound to heal. We can’t let racism break through again. This is the time to protest together, Arabs and Jews, against police violence and the occupation, and for peace, otherwise hatred will win again and again. I haven’t missed a chance to demonstrate for 10 years, and I never asked about the identity of the people hoisting banners alongside me, as long as the slogans represented my values. In these difficult days I take a single mission upon myself: to initiate and take part in as many nonviolent protests as I can, where there is partnership between Jews and Palestinians.”
This story is a part of “Haaretz 21,” a new project aimed at amplifying underrepresented voices and stories of Arab communities in Israel