The Solidarity Movement, which has grown from weekly protests in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, is a grassroots organization working towards civil equality within Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. With hundreds of activists, and a record of consistent, principled resistance to violations of democratic values, Solidarity is the Israeli left’s new voice.
Bernard Avishai: “Solidarity is poised to become a transformative movement. Its young leadership instructs and inspires me. Here are the future leaders of Israel’s global democracy.”
The immediate context for Solidarity’s emergence was the forced eviction of four Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes in 2009, along with the imminent threat of eviction of additional families. These Palestinians are all former refugees who escaped their erstwhile houses during the 1948 war. Arriving in then Jordanian ruled East Jerusalem, they waived their UN refugee cards in exchange for the right to build houses on a vacant lot in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
After Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Jewish organizations claimed ownership over these houses by virtue of Ottoman deeds dating back to the 19th century. The families, however, were not allowed to regain ownership over their former properties in Israel, though backed by similar Ottoman deeds. Indeed, while Israel’s “Absentee Properties Law” officially strips Palestinians of ownership rights over their pre-1948 properties, Jews are free to reclaim possession of prewar assets. This inequality before the law is responsible for the current crisis in Sheikh Jarrah.
The struggle against injustice in Sheikh Jarrah quickly turned into a vibrant political movement. Each Friday, hundreds of protesters from all over Israel congregate in the small neighborhood, standing shoulder to shoulder with local Palestinians. Trying to suppress the protest, Israeli authorities arrested more than 160 activists; yet the demonstrations only grew in numbers and influence.
In addition to hundreds of young activists, these demonstrations have drawn leading Israeli public figures such as author David Grossman, former Speaker of the Knesset Avrum Burg, and Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman as well as international luminaries such as President Jimmy Carter and author Mario Vargas Llosa. On March 6th, more than 4,000 people descended on the neighborhood for one of the largest and most inspiring Israeli-Palestinian rallies in recent history. Sheikh Jarrah subsequently became a symbol and rallying call for the struggle against occupation, discrimination and dispossession in Israel and Palestine.
Novelist David Grossman: “We have something to fight for and something to struggle for. People have to understand this and come here, because this is the place, more than any other place today, to protest and confront the root of the occupation, where you can identify with the motives and with a just cause that can hardly be questioned.” Speech at Sheikh Jarrah, 4/9/2010
Beyond Sheikh Jarrah
The distortions of four decades of occupation have thoroughly pervaded Israeli society. Solidarity fights oppression and discrimination on both sides on the Green Line. We believe that democracy cannot coexist with ethnic privilege. Solidarity activists work in both East Jerusalem and Israeli-Arab towns and villages where residents face evictions, house demolitions, and systematic discrimination. In addition to the Friday demonstrations in East Jerusalem, weekly demonstrations are held in the city of Lod, where demolition orders threaten more than 1,500 Arab families.
Solidarity also struggles for housing rights in the Arab city of Taybeh, and in the Jewish city of Beit She’an, where Jewish public housing tenants fight to hold on to their apartments. The Movement’s student groups (in four university and college campuses) focus on exposing students to local struggles by initiating talks and discussions, and, most importantly, field excursions.
Today, Solidarity is arguably the largest, most vibrant and influential group arguing for democratic renewal and peace. Many commentators in Israel and around the world view Solidarity as the one chance to rejuvenate the Israeli left.
Haaretz senior political analyst Akiva Eldar: “the struggle over Sheikh Jarrah has become the way to revive the Israeli left and build a bridge connecting Jews and Arabs.” Haaretz, 12/31/10
How you can help
Solidarity’s expanding activities entail mounting costs. With more than 160 activists arrested, and 40 indictments pending (all for “illegal assembly”), legal expenses alone are increasingly burdensome. In addition, transportation and printing expenses are on the rise. All donations to the Solidarity Movement go directly into on-the-ground activity: no wages, no offices, no overhead.
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Peter Beinart: “For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah… Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young?” ‘The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment’, NYRB, May 2010