By Michael Freund
Each week for the past nine months, a small band of noisy left-wing protesters has been gathering in the heart of Jerusalem. Though claiming to be motivated by the highest of ideals, these would-be campaigners for human rights appear to have trouble respecting even the most basic of society’s ground rules.
The demonstrators have repeatedly clashed with the police, broken through security barriers, attempted to block roads and even sought to storm privately-owned property. Mustering all the indignation at their disposal, they have waged an increasingly strident battle in an attempt to draw attention to their crusade.
Thus far, more than 100 have been arrested, and 44 have been slapped with indictments for a variety of offenses.
And just what, you might be wondering, could spark so much ire? What possible “injustice” could prompt people to come out in such a regular, and raucous, fashion? Why, it must be Jews moving into Jewish-owned homes in Jerusalem, of course! The scene of the action is the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood, which the media prefers to call by its Arabic name (what a surprise) of Sheikh Jarrah.
LOCATED JUST north of the Old City, the area is home to the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik (Simeon the Just), a high priest who served in the Second Temple and who was among the last members of the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset Hagedola) more than two millennia ago.
For centuries, the site was popular with Jewish pilgrims, and in 1876, the tomb and a surrounding plot of 18 dunams (4.5 acres) were purchased by a committee of Jews. Dozens of families subsequently moved in, with the neighborhood eventually serving as home to a thriving community of hundreds of Jews.
But in 1936, Arab rioters assaulted the area’s Jewish residents, and during the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan invaded and captured the neighborhood, bringing about a temporary end to the Jewish presence there. The Jordanians allowed Arabs to move into the deserted Jewish residences, effectively creating a cadre of squatters.
But after the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, efforts began to correct this historical injustice by restoring the area to its rightful Jewish owners. Sanctioned by the courts and with the backing of police, Jewish families have been moving into homes in the neighborhood for years, in some instances forcing out Arab residents who had no legal or moral right to be there.
And this – believe it or not – is what incenses the leftwing activists so much. Tossing aside the area’s historical Jewish connection, they choose to ignore the fact that the Jewish presence is being renewed after it was snuffed out by Arab violence and hatred several decades ago.
Instead, they prefer to raise their voices on behalf of the neighborhood’s unlawful Arab tenants, rather than championing the rights of its legal Jewish owners, simply because they oppose a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem.
It is a matter of such profound hypocrisy, and shortsighted ignorance, that it almost seems to defy rational comprehension. And that is precisely what lies at the root of the problem: a virulent strain of senseless hatred which overwhelms the mind’s capacity for coherent thought.
ON A recent Friday, this antagonism was very much on display, as the demonstrators sought to turn up the heat still another notch. On July 9, nine protesters were arrested in a particularly violent scuffle with law enforcement after they sought to barge into one of the Jewish-owned homes.
As a senior official of the Jerusalem police told Haaretz, “Once again, as in past weeks, the leftists are complaining after they broke the law… Dozens of protesters left the protest area set by the court, blocked the road and tried to break into the homes of the Jews. The police force ordered them repeatedly to go back to the protest area and they refused.” Among those taking part in the demonstration were author David Grossman, former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair and former Meretz MK Zehava Gal- On.
There is something truly pitiful about all of this, coming as it does at a time when Israel is under increasing attack in the international arena. After all, there is so much advocacy work to be done, so much effort that needs to be made to defend the Jewish state from its growing number of detractors abroad.
But rather than joining forces to confront this challenge, this gallant band of left-wingers invests its energies in trying to undermine the right of Jews to live in any part of Jerusalem. How sad. And how pathetic.
Indeed, this coming week, the people of Israel will commemorate Tisha Be’av and the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. According to the Talmud, it was our own internal discord which brought about our downfall. The historian Josephus also describes how the bitterly estranged Jewish factions of the time battled each other, even as the Roman legions advanced and surrounded them.
Now, we find ourselves encircled yet again, with our foes busy tightening their grip. Then, as now, our only hope lay in casting aside senseless hatred and forging a unity of strength and purpose as we defend what is rightfully ours.
When Jews seek to discriminate against their fellow Jews, and aim to deny them the right to live in a certain area because they are Jews, it is a recipe for dissension and disaster. Only by standing together, united as one in defense of Jerusalem and our land, can we repel the threats which loom over the horizon.
What a shame – what a terrible and tragic shame! – that despite the passage of nearly 2,000 years, the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah and their like have yet to learn this most basic of lessons.