By Sarah Brammer-Shlay
May 30, 2017
On the morning of Wednesday, May 24, I woke up in the Palestinian village of Sarura, also known as Sumud Freedom Camp. Palestinian residents of Sarura had been displaced from their homes 20 years prior and a coalition worked to return those families to their community. For the past eleven days there has been consistent Palestinian, international and Israeli presence at the camp that has withstood three IDF raids and is a clear act of resistance and Sumud, Arabic for steadfastness.
I left Sarura that morning with a few friends and headed to Jerusalem
. On our way back we noticed that at nearly every Palestinian village we passed, there was a line of soldiers there enforcing a checkpoint, restricting Palestinians
from getting in or out; the occasion — Jerusalem Day.
I drove to Jerusalem that day ready to use my body to stop the violence of the occupation
and prevent the right-wing March of the Flags from storming through the Muslim Quarter. On Jerusalem Day, thousands of right wing nationalists parade through East Jerusalem waving Israeli flags, often yelling “death to Arabs” and vandalizing Palestinian shops. Israeli authorities force shop owners to close “for their safety.” It is a day when occupation is celebrated. I know though that as a Jew I must resist occupation.
The #DisruptJDay demonstration was organized by IfNotNow
, Free Jerusalem, and All That’s Left — an unprecedented collaboration for a Jewish-led confrontation of the violence of the occupation. For the past three years, I have been active with IfNotNow, a movement led by young American Jews to end our community’s support for the occupation.
The occupation of East Jerusalem stares you in your face. Birthright
groups walk through it and Jewish summer camp trips ignore it but, after 50 years of occupation, our communal ignorance is no longer acceptable. It is time for our community to face the fact that Jewish and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem do not have equal access to basic resources such as water and electricity — Jerusalem is not “united” or “reunified”, it is divided along ethnic, religious, economic and social lines.
Months ago, we decided to plan a demonstration with Israelis and other Diaspora Jews living in Israel on Jerusalem Day. Every year, Israeli Border Police march through Damascus Gate, into the Muslim Quarter to force Palestinians to close their shops. This is all in service of the March of the Flags, whose official route unnecessarily takes them through those streets on their way to the Western Wall.
About 20 minutes into our nonviolent sit-in at Damascus Gate, Israeli police viciously grabbed my left arm from behind and I heard a pop, pop, pop. Immediately, I felt immense pain and realized that I could not bend my arm. After violently grabbing my arm, the officer shoved me. I stumbled, hardly able to walk. In a matter of moments, the Palestinian Red Crescent medics were by my side and soon stabilized my arm and eventually walked me to the ambulance.
For those who marched on Jerusalem Day, the occupation is to be celebrated. But a growing number of Jews around the world know the occupation is a horrific system of violence and oppression that must be resisted at every opportunity.
Mario Salvio — leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement — famously said, “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”
That was what we attempted to do last week: put our bodies upon the gears, wheels, levers and entire apparatus of the occupation Machine, which has been functioning at top speeds for 50 years. Our sit-in aimed to stop the Israeli police from entering the Muslim Quarter and closing Palestinian businesses, therefore forcing the March of the Flags to be rerouted and enter through another gate.
We hoped to symbolize to our our community back home the ways that Israel uses violence against Palestinians in order to protect the interests of occupation and right-wing violence.
More than 60 of us gathered in the Muslim Quarter in the hours before the “sterilization” — what Palestinians call the process of the police forcing them to close their shops. When the moment came, about 25 of us linked arms and blocked the police from entering Damascus Gate. The rest joined us as we sang in hebrew — “Olam Chesed Yibaneh”, the world will be built with love — and chanted “Diaspora Jews say, End the occupation!”
Moments after we started singing, a crowd of nearly 200 right wing youth (who had started their celebrations a few hours earlier than the sanctioned march) charged at us. In spite of a long history of right-wing violence, the police did nothing to intervene. Minutes later, the police turned on us, initially pulling us away one by one. They choked us, threw us carelessly to the ground, dragged us across the rough stones, and screamed in our faces to further intimidate us.
They piled us on top of each other in a barricaded area, until we were a mangled mess. Once it was clear that we were going to continue to sing and chant, they attempted to remove us from the area entirely, using even more violent tactics. I was linking arms with another person when they grabbed me from behind and broke my arm.
Once I was in the ambulance, the Palestinian Red Crescent medics asked me if I wanted to go to an Israeli or Palestinian hospital. I struggled with this question, nervous that an Israeli hospital would not give me the best care if they found out why I broke my arm. But I decided to go to the Israeli hospital because my friend I was with spoke Hebrew and not Arabic.
After checking vitals and x-rays for 3-4 hours, doctors determined that I had fractured the upper part of my arm above my elbow. On Sunday, they told me I would need surgery since if it is not healed correctly, I would forever have a limited ability to bend my arm. Over the past several days, I have needed support to do the most basic things such as bathe, open a bottle of water, take off clothes, etc.
In a matter of seconds, the Israeli police removed my agency.
What I’m experiencing in this moment is a small example of how the occupation is used to take away agency from the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Each and every day, Palestinians are subjected to arbitrary checkpoints which delay their travel, restricted water which strips them of basic dignity, home demolitions which tear families apart, and constant surveillance that has seeped into every aspect of Palestinian society.
I am broken but not finished. Police violence will not deter me from using my position as an American Jew to fight the occupation. And, in this 50th year of occupation, I’m calling on the entire community to join me in fighting back.
[Sarah Brammer-Shlay is a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation
By Ethan Buckner
May 31, 2017
In a matter of seconds, Israeli police broke Sarah Brammer-Shlay’s arm - and now she’s facing a $25,000 hospital bill for surgery and recovery that her insurance is refusing to cover.
Last week, Sarah and I joined 50 other Jewish anti-Occupation activists in Jerusalem to protest the annual March of the Flags, where settlers and right-wing extremists march through the Muslim Quarter shouting slogans like “Death to Arabs.” We linked arms and blocked Damascus Gate in an attempt to prevent the police from closing down Palestinian shops and legitimizing this march.
When Israeli police moved in to break up our peaceful demonstration, they began assaulting us, grabbing us by the throat, and throwing us to the ground. One officer grabbed Sarah from behind and broke her arm. It was terrifying - but Sarah remained steadfast and nonviolent throughout it all.
Sarah’s surgery is tomorrow. To make matters worse, she just received some bad news: her travel insurance will not cover her surgery. That means she needs to pay the entire cost of the surgery upfront in less than 24 hours - and she needs our help.
I spent nearly every moment in the weeks before the demonstration at Damascus Gate with Sarah. We were co-trip leaders on the Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation, supporting the 130 Jews from all over the world (including more than 40 IfNotNow members) who came to do direct solidarity work in Israel/Palestine.
I watched her determination and brilliance shine through despite late nights, early mornings, and lots of hard work. In the fall, Sarah will be attending rabbinical school so she can continue to support our community - and I can't wait to see where she leads us.
On Jerusalem Day, Sarah and I witnessed the harsh violence of the Occupation - and we know that it is just a small glimpse into the violence Palestinians experience every day.
As American Jews, we must resist decades of communal support for the Occupation. Next week, IfNotNow will be mobilizing the American Jewish community all over the country to confront 50 years of Occupation. We believe in a different vision for our community - and part of that is taking care of each other.
Sarah’s arm was broken because she was nonviolently protesting the Occupation and standing up for the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis. Let's honor her work and show up for Sarah in this painful moment - donate right now and share with your networks.
P.P.S. To hear more about our Jerusalem Day action in Sarah's own words, check out this article
By Natasha Roth
May 24, 2017
An activist with IfNotNow is carried away by Israeli police during a Jerusalem Day protest, Jerusalem, May 24, 2017.
credit: JC/Activestills.org // +972
Israeli police broke the arm of an American Jewish activist and injured several other anti-occupation demonstrators while forcefully dispersing a Jerusalem Day protest in the Old City on Wednesday.
The demonstration, held at Damascus Gate by American and Israeli Jewish activists with IfNotNow, Free Jerusalem and All That’s Left, took place during the March of the Flags, an annual right-wing parade that habitually results in violence against Palestinians from both its participants and the Israeli police units escorting them. The march is heavily funded by the Jerusalem Municipality.
The parade passes through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, and Palestinian traders along the route are ordered by police to close their shops during the march. IfNotNow organizer Yonah Lieberman told +972 Magazine that Wednesday’s protest was aimed at trying to block the police from clearing out the Muslim Quarter, forcing them to reroute the march.
Israelis take part in the “March of the Flags,” an annual event on Jerusalem Day held to mark what the Israeli Right sees as the ‘unification’ of the city, May 24, 2017.
credit: JC/Activestills.org // +972
“[We] decided that it was important to confront the violence of Jerusalem Day head-on,” Lieberman said. “Specifically, [it was] important for us to do all that we could to demonstrate the way that Israeli state violence is used against Palestinians in order to protect right-wing Jewish extremists.”
Around two dozen activists linked arms in front of Damascus Gate, Lieberman explained. He noted that while the group tried to avoid direct confrontation with the march participants, they were “charged at” by right-wing Israelis, before being ordered to move by Israeli police.
Video footage from the protest, shot by Naomi Dann, an activist on the scene, shows police dragging protesters out by their arms and by the neck. Lieberman, who was filmed being carried away in a headlock, can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” to the police holding onto him.
The activist whose arm was broken, Sarah Brammer-Shlay was evacuated in a Palestinian ambulance — whose operators, in support of the protest, waived the fee for the ride — to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. Numerous other protesters were suffering from bruises and the after-effects of being choked.
Neither the Jerusalem Police nor the Border Police responded immediately to a request for comment. Should a response be received, it will be included below.
A protester is dragged away by Israeli riot police during a Jerusalem Day protest, Jerusalem, May 24, 2017.
credit: JC/Activestills.org // +972
Many of the participants in the protest had traveled from the West Bank, where they had been participating in the Sumud Freedom Camp — a joint initiative by a coalition of Palestinian, Israeli and diaspora Jewish anti-occupation groups. On Saturday night, Israeli soldiers dismantled the camp and stole its generator, although the activists remained onsite.
For the organizers, Wednesday’s protest in Jerusalem was just the latest step in a burgeoning anti-occupation movement among diaspora Jews.
“Never before has such a coalition come together to put together this kind of action on Jerusalem Day,” Lieberman said. “This was a deeply significant action, demonstrating the growing Jewish anti-occupation movement across the world.
“This is a significant moment for us. Our generation is rejecting the occupation. In [its] 50th year, it felt deeply significant for us to come together and put our bodies on the line.”
Update 25 May, 2017: Israel Police Spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld responded to a request for comment on Brammer-Shlay’s arm being broken by police:
“A resident of East Jerusalem arrived at Damascus Gate and hoisted a Palestinian flag, while calling out towards them [the response does not clarify who ‘they’ are — n.r.]. Clashes broke out between the two sides and police forces separated them. At the same time, police were attacked by the suspect and an additional suspect who didn’t follow police orders and even attacked police. A police officer was evacuated after being hit on the head by an object. When the suspects were arrested left-wing activists started gathering at the scene and sat on the parade route, and were evacuated.”
This is an odd and disingenuous response. Not only does it not deny that the police broke Brammer-Shlay’s arm, it fails to answer the question at all — and makes the disturbing insinuation that alleging clashes between Palestinians and police is a suitable justification for brutalizing nonviolent demonstrators.
[Natasha Roth is a writer, editor and translator. My work has appeared in
The London Review of Books Blog, Haaretz, The Forward, The Daily Beast and
The Fair Observer. I write under my family’s true last name in memory of my grandfather, Kurt, who was forced to change his name to ‘Rowland’ when seeking refuge in the UK during WW2. She also writes at: www.natasharoth.com