Arab Citizens of Israel Show Unprecedented Involvement in Jerusalem Protests

Traditionally, Arab citizens of Israel have refrained from joining the struggles of Palestinians. The recent protests in Jerusalem, however, mark a dramatic shift

Nir Hasson
Yanal Jbareen, Fatima Khamaisi
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Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, yesterday.
Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, yesterday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Yanal Jbareen, Fatima Khamaisi

Out of the 200 Palestinians wounded on Friday’s violent clashes in Jerusalem, two suffered moderate wounds. Amid the unprecedented participation of Arab citizens of Israel in the recent incidents, it is not surprising that both of them are not East Jerusalem residents, but rather Arab citizens of Israel.

According to Sireen Jbareen, 25, a leading figure in the young Arab citizens of Israel protest movement, more than 250 protesters from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm alone took part in the protests in Sheikh Jarrah on Friday. In addition, hundreds of the protesters who clashed with police in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday evening came from northern and central Israeli Arab towns.

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The relationship, however, between East Jerusalem Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, is complex. On the one hand, Arab citizens of Israel mediate between East Jerusalem residents and Israeli authorities, as most of them hold top positions in the eastern part of the Israeli capital – lawyers, school principals and government agencies officials. On the other hand, East Jerusalem residents harbor resentment toward the well-off Arab citizens of Israel, who they say have forgotten their Jerusalem brethren who suffer under the Israeli occupation.

Over the past years this notion was validated as only Jerusalemite Palestinians took part in their East Jerusalem struggle. Only infrequently did waves of East Jerusalem protests, mostly around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, spark demonstrations elsewhere in Israel as well.

No one remembers, however, such a vast involvement of Arab citizens of Israel in East Jerusalem rallies. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, dozens of buses of worshippers, some of whom partook in the recent clashes with the police, arrived to the capital from northern and central Arab Israeli towns and cities. To many Palestinians, Jerusalemites and non-Jerusalemites, this marks a dramatic shift.

The older Palestinian generation, who lived through the two intifadas in the early 90’s and 2000’s, “say that nothing came out of them” and “has already lost hope,” Jbareen says. “Now the young people feel that they need to come out [and protest],” she adds. Yara, 21, also from Umm al-Fahm, says that “what’s happening in Jerusalem is happening not only to its inhabitants,” emphasizing that Arab citizens of Israel struggle so that Arabs, throughout Israel, can exercise their right to remain on their lands. Umm al-Fahm residents have a pivotal role in Israeli Arab protests in general. Among the Jerusalemite Palestinian protesters, young Umm al-Fahm residents have a reputation of fearlessness of the police.

Rallying behind the Jerusalem Palestinians is closely connected to the recent wave of protests in Umm al-Fahm against the blind eye police turns to the surging violence within the Arab community. A couple of months ago, three social movement groups of young people united to form the “United Fahmawi Movement” (Fahmawi is a nickname for an Umm al-Fahm resident). Its leaders coordinate both the protests against the police in the north, and the protests in Jerusalem. Social networks have also played a key role in gathering young supporters to the struggle. On Saturday many youngsters changed their social media profile picture in solidarity with the wounded in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound clashes using the PLM hashtag – Palestinian Lives Matter.

Even the Druze community in Israel, which usually refrains from joining the Arab community’s protests, and certainly does not involve itself in those of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, has recently begun posting videos on social media using the “Save Sheikh Jarrah” hashtag. So far, on Sunday, the hashtag has had more than 1.5 million shares on Twitter and was featured in the trending tab on Twitter in Israel and the West Bank.

“When I came to Sheikh Jarrah on Friday, I clearly saw racist separation,” says Shadi Nassar, 23, from the northern Israeli Arab city of Arabeh. “Jerusalem is the center of the Palestinian issue, without it there is no liberation of the Palestinian people, who live under occupation and historic injustice.” He added that young Arab citizens of Israel are heading to Jerusalem “to express solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem” as well as the struggle for the establishment of a Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem.

Lin Jbareen, 17, from Umm al-Fahm says that after she “saw the injustice and pain of [her] people,” she realized, “that resistance in any kind of form is effective, and so I’m trying my best to take part in demonstrations and social action so that maybe one day there will be a great revolution.”

Ibrahim, 18, from the northern Israeli Arab town of Kafr Kana, sees the protests as a religious obligation. “The Muslim residents of Jerusalem are suffering from discrimination in every realm of life, such as the evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” he says. “I am against discrimination in general, especially against the weak, and therefore it is my religious obligation to support them,” he adds. Yara, 22, from the northern city of Baka al-Garbiyeh, adds that young Arab citizens of Israel are joining the latest protests “because we are one people, one nation, from the Galilee to the Negev, and we will continue to come [to protests],” she says.

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