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Sheikh Jarrah: The Extremes of 'Sharing Space' in Jerusalem Yair Wallach Additional Photographs by

Conflict in Cities: Europe and the Middle East

'Sharing space' in divided cities can take many shapes: from tense encounters and confrontations, through commerce and labour, to active cooperation and social relations. Perhaps the best example to reveal the opposite ends of this spectrum is Sheikh Jarrah, one of the flashpoints of confrontation in Jerusalem. In recent years, settlers have sought to establish strongholds in the Palestinian neighbourhood, especially around the Jewish holy site of the Shimon ha-Tsadik tomb. However, in the last two years the settlers’ campaign to evict Palestinian families has met with a vigorous response from Palestinian and Israeli Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity protestors, who have transformed the neighbourhood into a centre of joint protests against the settlers. Joint protest, however, is not without contestation, as Israeli and Palestinian activists negotiate political and cultural differences. And yet in less than two years, Solidarity actions have become a visible presence in the Jerusalem landscape, not only in Sheikh Jarrah but also in other parts of the city.

The Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has been targeted by settlers in recent years. Settlers are using Jewish property claims dating from before 1948 to evict Palestinians from their houses and establish a presence in this key neighbourhood, especially in the vicinity of the Jewish holy tomb of Shimon ha-Tsadik. The evictions have received the approval of the Israeli courts, and the authorities claim they have no jurisdiction to intervene.

The largely affluent Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah is also home to Palestinian refugees, who fled their villages in Israel in 1948 to Jordanian ruled areas, to be settled in former Jewish homes. These families are now at risk of becoming refugees once more: four families have already been evicted, and dozens of others are threatened with court orders.

Residents of Sheikh Jarrah have found themselves having to share space with settlers; in one case, settlers have gained control of one part of the house while a Palestinian family continues to live in the other part. This 'sharing of space' is highly antagonistic, and local residents complain of harassment and abuse from the settlers, their security guards and the police, who now place restrictions on Palestinian access to these areas. Settlers, on the other hand, claim they suffer verbal and physical abuse from Palestinians.

The Israeli Solidarity movement emerged in response to the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. Outraged by settler actions and the tacit support of the authorities, activists joined the protest tent of the evicted Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, and in early 2009 started to organise weekly protests.

The protests are joint IsraeliPalestinian actions. While most participants are Israeli, a substantial number are Palestinians, mostly, it appears, from the Sheikh Jarrah area itself. The chanting is in Arabic and Hebrew, and the placards are in both languages as well as in English.

Protestors have been criticised in Israeli left wing circles because of their decision to refrain from displaying Israeli flags, while Palestinian flags are flown. But Solidarity campaigners explain that 'you can't bring Israeli flags to an occupied area and expect to have an Israeli-Palestinian joint struggle. It drives away all the Palestinians. And it is an occupied territory and we must never forget that.'

Dress code proved another contentious issue. In summer 2010, the organisers requested demonstrators to respect Palestinian sensibilities on gender issues, by not attending the demonstrations in sleeveless shirts or short trousers. The request has received sharp criticism from Israel i feminists.

Settlers have used the debate on dress code to attack the protestors claiming they are serving the cause of Muslim fundamentalists. 'Modest dress only' placards were posted in Sheikh Jarrah, and slanderous rumours of sexual harassment and even rape were reported by feminist bloggers and right wing journalists. No evidence was brought to support these accusations.

In fact, the protests are characterised by the strong presence and involvement of Israeli and Palestinian women, and female activists who have played a dominant and leading role in the demonstrations so far.

The weekly demonstrations are characterised by a carnival-like atmosphere, with drummers and music.

Israeli Police have continuously attempted to prevent the protests through conducting heavy-handed crowd dispersal activities and carrying out numerous arrests. Yet following court decisions, they have had to accept the weekly demonstrations, although the protestors are usually prevented from standing outside settler houses.

On the left: Israeli-Palestinian Member of Knesset , Muhammad Baraka, from the Israeli Communist Party. Some Israeli politicians attend the demonstrations, but they do not address the crowd and remain on the sidelines. The events are led by the young Israel i organisers and their Palestinian counterparts.

Nasir Ghawi, an evicted resident from Sheikh Jarrah who has become the face of the joint campaign, leading a Solidarity protest in Issawiyya, East Jerusalem, against police and municipal discrimination.

'We are [the] most serious grassroots protest movement on the Israeli left scene at present... there is great enthusiasm and we want to bring the model to other places in Israel – the Bedouin in the Negev, Lyda - and to start a student movement in universities in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. This is not a struggle against a specific injustice or [about] Jerusalem - it's about the structural racism of the Israeli system.' Liran, Solidarity activist.

Conflict in Cities and the Contested State research project, supported by the ESRC (grant number RES-060-25-0015)

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Sheikh Jarrah: The Extremes of 'Sharing Space' in Jerusalem - Yair Wallach  
Sheikh Jarrah: The Extremes of 'Sharing Space' in Jerusalem - Yair Wallach  

'Sharing space' in divided cities can take many shapes: from tense encounters and confrontations, through commerce and labour, to active coo...