Jerusalem: the city of many protests (by EA Sandra)

Recent days seem to show the diversity of our work here in Jerusalem.

Friday started with the 8am morning walk round the Old City to check all the gates to the Al Aqsa Mosque were open. There are seven gates and one for tourists. Sometimes some of the gates are closed by the Israeli authorities for clear reasons but sometimes no-one seems to know why, even the policemen. At present the number of Jewish men trying to forcibly enter the Mosque seems to be increasing so we are on alert for this — and also for establishing why, if we see Muslim people being turned away. We have met a group of women who demonstrate regularly within the Mosque compound against these incidents.

Guardian article from October takes a closer look at the background to recent incidents at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

On April 24 however, we had to walk speedily as we had also to monitor the 100-year (or centenary) commemoration of the Armenian genocide. The commemoration involved the laying of wreaths, services, and then a demonstration at the Turkish Consulate.

We were asked on many occasions why Britain, as a Christian country, had not yet recognised that piece of 1915 history as “genocide”.

“The Pope has…”, people said to us.

The reasons seems a bit complex to explain during our observations on a demonstration — but I am pondering them, as did a recent article in the Israeli paper Haaretz.

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A demonstrator with a clear message about the Armenian genocide [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

Swedish EA Ninna  observes the demonstration [Credit: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Swedish EA Ninna observes the demonstration [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

One Palestinian told me his grandfather had survived the genocide after being hidden by his Turkish neighbours. There were many good Turks, he said — why can’t they just recognise that what happened was genocide?

As EAs here we usually only observe demonstrations, but  we can participate in two which sit squarely with the principles of EAPPI. The first is the peace demonstration by the Israeli human rights organisation Women in Black. Please do have look at their site – some of you in London may know of the British group of the same name who stand regularly at the Edith Cavell statue by the National Portrait Gallery.

Recently this local demonstration has been sparsely attended, but on this day there were around 80 people. There was a scattering of ‘internationals’, but most were Israeli, including a great young Israeli musical band.

The demonstration walked to two houses in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where it is believed that local Palestinian families resident for many years had been evicted unfairly to make way for Jewish settlers, and to another house where a Jewish family was in residence in what was half of a house built by a Palestinian family, who were still in residence in the other half. There are complex arguments here but it is widely held that Sheikh Jarrah is the next target area for Israeli settlers.

Demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah [Credit: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

Palestinian hospitality did not fail us even here as a demonstration leader went into a nearby house and emerged with cold drinks for everyone.

A lead demonstrator offers drinks [Credit: EAPPI/S.Horne]

A demonstration leader offers drinks [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

Two older women then exited from the drinks house and angrily addressed the police, who had been called, and a Jewish householder. I was told that their theme was “we have lived here for years. We have rights, you will not remove us”.

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The two ladies have their say [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

The next day’s morning walk was followed by a meeting at the Silwan community information centre. Silwan is a district on the other side of the Old City and clashes with police and troops are frequent here. Their website gives a clear Palestinian perspective.

We met a woman worker at the centre. She told us of life in Silwan. She said, “There is an Israeli policy of ‘silent transfer’. They believe life will be so awful we will all leave, but we shall not.”

This recent Guardian article gives an interesting view on the life of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

When we arrived at the centre we met a large group of women and children going to Ramallah for a day of celebration and performance. There had been clashes in a nearby neighbourhood the night before, and the women were fearful that their bus would not be allowed through the Qalandia checkpoint. For many this checkpoint is a place of fear. Thus, rightly or wrongly, a simple day out becomes a thing of worry and fear.

In my previous blog on Qalandia checkpoint, I put a photo of two notices. Two of you noted there was no notice in Arabic. There was but it was covered in posters and I did not take the picture to include it. To put it right, here is the full picture:

The entrance to Qalandia checkpoint on the Ramallah side [Credit: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The entrance to Qalandia checkpoint on the Ramallah side [Credit: EAPPI/A.Smith]

Just as a note – Qalandia has made it into the Lonely Planet travel guide which says, “This is one of the busiest checkpoints and it sports some fairly grim metal corrals and locking turnstiles of the sort you’d expect to see at a maximum security prison”.

An EA has a varied life.

But to end on a positive note – a visit to the YWCA of Palestine was really inspiring in terms of the amazing training and advocacy work being done by Palestinian women for Palestinian women and girls. This super video was also directed by a woman.

And rising above it all:

A bird on a wire at Qalandia [Credit: EAPPI/J.Fisher]

A bird on the wire at Qalandia checkpoint [Credit: EAPPI/J.Fisher]