Every Friday afternoon for more than a year, hundreds of Israeli Jews have gathered on a dusty little square in the middle of Arab East Jerusalem. There are some Palestinians there, too, including a couple of boys selling fresh orange juice. The people gather there, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, to protest the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.
These evictions are humiliating, sometimes violent, and frightening to other Palestinian families – who are in danger of losing their homes as well. Israeli students were the first to organize a protest, known as the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. They were followed by distinguished professors, famous novelists, and a former attorney general, among others.
At first, the Israeli police used force against the protesters, even though such demonstrations are perfectly legal in Israel. This provoked such bad publicity that the police backed off, while still blocking the road to the new settlements. All the demonstrators can do is hold up signs, bang drums, chant slogans, and show solidarity just by turning up.
Ian Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. His latest book is Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton). He is a regular contributor to many publications, including the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Guardian, and the Financial Times.