Face to face with police violence in Sheikh Jarrah

by Saar Yachin

On Friday, I went to the Sheikh Jarrah protest, to stand against the new Jewish settlement in the Arab neighborhood. It was my second time there. The first was fun and peaceful. I hung out with people I knew, drank freshly-squeezed orange juice. It was great. This time was different.


Where should I begin? Should I mention the bookstall selling Mein Kampf in Arabic, which I saw near Damascus Gate, on my way to Sheikh Jarrah? How do they transliterate that, and how foreign that title must sound in a conversation in Arabic, I wondered as I walked down the street past the Garden Tomb – a contending Golgotha – before arriving at the small park, where the petit-martyrs of our age gather every Friday afternoon. It is empty. An organizer informs me that the demonstration has been moved to 3 pm. I should sign up for the newsletter, she says. I don’t, but rather go lie down on a bench, where my bad back forces me to remain supine, waiting for the pain to dissipate, for the people to come. By the time I manage to get up, a small crowd had already assembled. It is sunny and optimistic, and I am on vacation and happy.

So why did I go to Sheikh Jarrah? Why the solidarity? I really am not an activist, and not a great fan of crowds, or of opinions or agendas. I live in the desert, where there’s no one to discuss politics with. People talk about essential oils and dreams, watch the stars and dance, far away from casual Tel Aviv of the legion causes, and holy Jerusalem of the many transgressions.

But if on a Friday afternoon I am in the city, I would consider not attending attending this protest more of a statement than actually going there. So I join the people, who are done listening to the few speakers delivering updates, announcing, angelically and charismatically, some struggle in Lod. Drums sound, slogans pulsate, the people are marching to the occupied house.

The last protest I attended was indeed devoid of violence. In fact, it was laid back. This time, however, I soon found myself standing back, distancing myself from cops, their faces covered, revealing only wild trapped-animal eyes; activists arrested, dragged, others beaten; the disturbingly calm settler at the house gate. I feel repulsed, thought I had enough, and then the protesters headed back, to stand before the police line blocking a road. A car, stickers announcing that Rabbi Meir Kahane’s ideas were correct, stops; a settler emerges to argue with a veteran of several wars, who shows the young man a picture of a relative killed in a terror attack. The settler sees him and raises him his murdered brother. Later, two milky adolescent Brooklyn boys wearing kippahs tell us to go back to Germany. They call us Nazis, in English – oh the eternal Holocaust blowing down from the Temple Mount, to the Palestinian bookseller and to the lips of babes. A woman next to me asks them why not speak Hebrew, and they answered in labored, Brooklyn-accented Hebrew, “ani kayn medaber eevreet” –  I do speak Hebrew.

Back in the garden, shabbat, our queen, is coming to rest above the city. Miracles abound – there’s free coffee for the multitudes, a miracle second only to the nearby Garden Tomb, with its free toilets for all – the protesters, the Yasam (riot police) and even the settlers can go there, see Calvary and use the toilet. Most say it’s not the real Calvary. I guess opinions vary. I myself don’t like opinions, or agendas, all that much. I would, however, join the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah again, as it seems they support the most reasonable agenda around.

Saar Yachin is a poet and translator living in Mitzpeh Ramon, Israel.