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Two views from Sheikh Jarrah

Every Friday in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, protestors gather to oppose what is taking place in the neighbourhood- the eviction of Palestinians from their homes by the security forces, following which their houses are handed over to Israeli settlers.

At 4.30 pm on 9th April, the crowd of about three hundred- a mixed group of Jews, Arabs, and people from abroad- was in good spirits, singing and chanting slogans in Hebrew and Arabic to the accompaniment of a group of drummers, despite the arrest earlier that afternoon of four of the organisers of the demonstration.

In contrast to the protestors, the heavily-armed soldiers and police who patrolled the demonstration were silent, and on their faces were expressions of indifference as they hefted their guns and batons. Every few minutes, as if to relieve their boredom, an officer would issue an order for the troops to push back the crowd.

Two of the protestors explained to me why they were there.

Sharihan, 21 years old, an evicted Sheikh Jarrah resident

Sheikh Jarrah is my neighbourhood. I'm a member of the Hanoun family. They evicted my family and my neighbours' family, and every Friday we come here to make a demonstration.

What do you think about this demonstration today?

This demonstration gives us power, because they say our problem is with the Jewish, but our problem is not with the Jews, with religions, with Muslims and Jewish and Christians, our problem is with the settlers and the police.

There were many Jewish people who supported us before we were evicted, and they supported us after we were evicted. Before they evicted us, for five months there were Jewish people sleeping with us in our house, to support us and in solidarity with us. And after we were evicted, they stayed with us in the street all the time, they refused what the police and the Israelis, the settlers, are doing to us. And it’s making us feel that we have power.

And when they support us it makes us feel happy because people care about us. Not only Jewish, people from Europe and all the world: from France, America, Sweden, Norway, etcetera, they support us every day.

Up to now they have evicted four families, they want to evict another 24 families soon. We don’t know when, tomorrow, after a week, after a month. And when the international and Jewish people help us and there is a demonstration every Friday, it gives us hope that they don’t evict another 24 families. Because I've been living in the street for nine months now. Up till now, we stay in the street, we've put up tents. I don’t want my neighbours to feel what we feel in the street.

But the forces against you are very strong.

Yes, but Palestinians are strong. Palestinians never give up; for us, we will never give up. If they [the Israelis] don't want to give up, it goes for us.

What we want is for you to know about our situation here in Palestine. It’s not just in Sheikh Jarrah, there's Silwan, and what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank. We want people, European people and all the world to know about the Palestinians, what they see every day.

Shaylem, age 38, teacher of Jewish philosophy at Tel Aviv University

I’m here because Sheikh Jarrah was hijacked by settlers, with the permission of the military and the police. And every decent citizen should protest, and I’m living in Jerusalem, it’s my city and I care.

How do the other Jewish citizens in Israel perceive what’s going on here?

Well the truth is that the large majority know nothing about it. And if they know something, it’s that there are a few lunatics that care about Palestinians, you know, "Arab lovers". I think that most of the Jewish population does not really care, and knows very little about what’s going on in the occupied territories and in Jerusalem in particular.

Do you think you have much of a chance of persuading the Jewish majority in Israel of the injustice of what’s happening?

Look, the struggle is multi-faced. There is the struggle on the more general conscience and knowledge, but here it’s not really about education. It’s really a struggle with the settlers and with the police. The basic idea is to show them that they can’t just sneak during the night and do whatever they wish, that we’re here and we’re watching, and we’re shouting and we will tell whoever cares, not just in Israel. This is not an inner kind of Jewish thing, you know, we will tell whoever cares, in Britain, or in the US, in Europe or wherever.

What would your message be to people in the Western countries, who are the main supporters of Israel, or at least their governments are?

This is not a zero-sum game. It's not that through occupation and through depriving Palestinians of rights we will somehow flourish. Of course, it’s totally the other way around.  The only way that Israel can survive and flourish is through ending the occupation. I’m seeing myself as a local patriot, and I’m serious, I’m really worried about the very existence of Israel. I mean the way that things are handled now, that we are the bully of the neighbourhood...

You’re aware that this is increasingly the international perception of Israel?

Yes, but it’s kind of tricky, because first of all it’s not that way with the Jewish communities. And it should be. Because they are as liberal as it gets, with any other area, just not with Israel. The idea that this is a package deal, that if you are for Israel, you have to accept everything, and every lunatic decision of any government. And it’s crazy. This is not Zionism, this is Apartheid. Every decent person, every decent Jew, every decent human being should be outraged about what’s going on here. I mean it really doesn’t matter what your religion and what your nationality is, it’s just not right. It’s simple, as simple as that.