There could not have been a more appropriate location for the protest: the large square in front of Jaffa Gate, exactly on the Green Line between East and West Jerusalem.
There, on Thursday (10.9.09) gathered hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators to protest against the designs of the government and the municipality to conduct ethnic cleansing by expelling Palestinian families and planting settlers in the heart of the Arab neighbourhoods.
The protest, which was called by the Rabbis for Justice, Gush Shalom and other peace groups (see end) took place in the evening, when the place was full of inhabitants.
The protesters held Hebrew posters saying: “Give a chance to peace, not to settlements in East Jerusalem”, “Jerusalem – a city of all its inhabitants, “Jerusalem of gold and of the rights of its citizens – an allusion to a famous patriotic song. The Gush Shalom emblem of the two flags of Israel and Palestine were also prominent. The protest was accompanied by songs of love to Jerusalem and a group of drummers. In between speakers they interjected with drum rolls and chanting of "A city for all! A city for all!".
Rabbi Arik Asherman, the first speaker, opened with the words: “Thou shalt not have in thy town divers measures!” – a paraphrase of the Biblical injunction “Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small” (Deuteronomy 25:14). In Hebrew, “divers measures" mean discrimination or double standard. Asherman pointed out that is was a glaring injustice to expel Arabs from houses in East Jerusalem that were owned by Jews before 1967, while hundreds of houses in West Jerusalem were not returned to Arabs that owned them before 1967.
The representatives of the two extended families who were recently expelled from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and are now living in tents on the street called on the Jewish public to act for justice and reconciliation between the two communities in Jerusalem. "From the sidewalk where we are forced to observe the fast of Ramadan, I want to bring the greetings of fifty three expelled Palestinians to the Jews who came here to share our struggle, and wish you a happy Rosh Ha'Shana (Jewish New Year)" said Nasser Gawi in Hebrew . "I wish all of us a life of peace in the Jerusalem where the occupation will end. The dividing line between Palestinian Jerusalem and Israeli Jerusalem will not be a place of tensions and violence, there will be no reason for that. It will be a meeting place between neighbours living in peace and amity".
An opposing large group of religious Jewish youngsters, supporting the settlers, tried to disturb the event by singing and dancing, but fears of violence proved unfounded. All through the demonstration, Orthodox people passed between the protectors on their way to the Western Wall.
Prof. Alice Shalvi – religious feminist, former principal of the Pelech Girls' school and laureate of the Israel Prize – recalled that "on the day in 1967 when the wall separating East and West Jerusalem came down, there was a single moment when Israelis and Palestinians were ready to accept each other as equals in a truly united city. But this was utterly missed, Israeli rule over the Jerusalem Palestinians turned out to be a rule of injustice, of oppression and dispossession which is still continuing and escalating. If this does not stop, this city is heading to disaster."
"Sometimes the media coverage of settler activity in East Jerusalem gives the impression of rampaging nationalist-religious fanatics which the authorities are somehow unable to control. The reality is far from that" said Orly Noy of the "Ir Amim" ("City of the Peoples") association. The state and municipal authorities, the government ministries, the officials, the jurists, the police, are all directly and actively involved in a ceaseless campaign to get as many houses and as much land out of Palestinian hands, to let settlers become established by all kinds of shady legal tricks, to let them keep possession, protected by police and a private army of security guards paid by the state, to give into their hands enormous public properties such as the so-called "City of David National Park" in Silwan Village. It is not private enterprise, it is very much a state enterprise run by the government of Israel".
“I thank you all for coming to mark my 86th birthday’” Uri Avnery said, to some laughter. “Indeed, I cannot imagine a more proper occasion for my birthday party.” He remarked that Nir Barkat is “the mayor of West Jerusalem and the military governor of East Jerusalem, a cruel tyrant for the Arab population.”
Avnery reminded the protesters that 14 years ago a demonstration had taken place on the same spot, where the late Faisal Husseini, leader of the Arab community in Jerusalem, had said that “a day will come when a Jew speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’, will mean Israelis and Palestinians, and an Arab speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’ will mean Palestinians and Israelis.”
“Inspired by this speech, we composed a manifesto that was signed in 1995 by almost a thousand Israeli public figures, writers, artists,” Avnery recounted, and read out the text:
Jerusalem is ours, Israelis and Palestinians – Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Our Jerusalem is a mosaic of all The cultures, all the religions And all the periods That enriched the city, from Earliest antiquity to this very day – Canaanites and Jebusites and Israelites, Jews and Hellenes, Romans and Byzantines, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Mamelukes, Othmanlis and Britons, Palestinians and Israelis.
They and all the others Who made their contribution To the city Have a place In the spiritual and physical Landscape of Jerusalem.
Our Jerusalem must be united, Open to all And belonging to all its inhabitants, Without borders and barbed wire In its midst.
Our Jerusalem must be the capital Of the two states that will live Side by side In this country – West Jerusalem the capital Of the State of Israel And East Jerusalem The capital of the state of Palestine.
OUR JERUSALEM MUST BE THE CAPITAL OF PEACE
List of organizing groups: Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Ta’ayush, Bat Shalom, Coalition of Women for Peace, Combatants for Peace, Yesh Gvul, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions