by Leah Tillmann-Morris
Outside the American embassy opening in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14th, the demonstration of international and Israeli activists was joined by a few hundred Palestinians, and surrounded by over a hundred border policemen. Although the protestors were peaceful and unarmed, the scene quickly turned into an example of police brutality, with arrests of 14 Palestinians.
Israeli and International demonstrators begin the protest outside the new US embassy (Photo: Elias Newman)
Monday’s embassy move, condemned worldwide as an inflammatory denial of Palestinian claims to the city of Jerusalem and damaging to the peace protest rallied demonstrators outside the ceremony of what transformed from the American consulate to the embassy.
The protest started small as news that buses of Palestinian supporters had been blocked and stopped by the police as they left East Jerusalem reached the international groups. Headed by the joint Israeli and international-led Anti-Occupation Collective, ‘All That’s Left’, chanting with drummers and megaphones, the protest began with around a hundred people, shortly before the scheduled beginning of the ceremony at four. They were able to occupy the pavement, stand directly by the road and hold up signs with slogans such as ‘End the Occupation!’, ‘Occupation is not my Judaism!’, ‘Yontif, Trump!’, ‘No embassy until Palestinians are free!’, ‘Trump, Jerusalem is not your toy!’.
The Level of Aggression that was used was Shocking
This was tolerated by the police and Magav (Border Police) until the eventual arrival of the Palestinian protestors who they had delayed. Young Palestinian women among them then took the lead, with a passion that heightened the intensity of the chanting immediately. The chant ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!’ and other Arabic chants were added to the ‘Hi ho, hi ho, the occupation’s got to go!’ ‘One, two, three four, occupation no more!’ ‘Five, six seven, eight, stop the violence, stop the hate!’; ‘Netanyahu you will see, Palestine will be free!’; and also ‘Occupation is a crime, Afghanistan to Palestine!’. Despite arguments between Trump supporters who had come to celebrate the ‘milestone’ move and were deliberately mingling among them and falsely accusing the Arabic chants of being threats of death and bloodshed to the Jewish people, the demonstration was initially relatively contained. However, the Palestinians’ presence quickly became an opportunity for suppressive action by the police, as within minutes of Palestinian flags being distributed, the permissive attitude of the police vanished; in a powerful and rapid charge, the Border Police confiscated every Palestinian flag in sight, tore up or took away almost all signs held by activists, also of course accompanied by arrests of those who had been handing them out. The justification given for the abrupt prohibition of free political expression was that Palestinian flags incite violence- apparently it had been previously agreed upon that no flags would be present at the demonstration.
man is tackled to the ground before a group of Border Police officers arrest him (Photo: Leah Tillmann-Morris)
The pattern was repeated many times through the protest: the Border Police struck suddenly and were unrestrained, in groups of up to fifty, effectively driving protestors back and establishing new barriers further and further away from the pavement. The frequent arrests that accompanied the push-backs each involved violent struggles with multiple soldiers for each Palestinian arrested. (In total, 14 protestors were arrested – all of them of Palestinian identity.) One unexpected escalation of a particularly frightening push-back involved people being tackled then pressed back into a back alleyway. In the crush, one man nearby had a heart attack, and was carried out by volunteers to the side alleyway, with a row of Border Police blocking the exit. It was 15 minutes before ambulance workers were able to take him out on a stretcher.
Less prominently, it was also apparent where the sympathy of the neighbourhood of Arnona, the well-off West Jerusalem Jewish neighbourhood where the new embassy building is situated, lay. High up on one of the balconies overlooking the demonstration, two Israeli women with an incredible sense of mission doused the protestors with water from a hose for over an hour. Defiantly dancing in this shower of water along with the collective cheering for the arrival of the group of ‘IsraelVersusJudaism’ Chasidic Jews towards the end of the demonstration, became some of the lighter moments of the protest. Naturally, the majority of demonstrators were Palestinians, although a number of Jews, Americans, Israelis and internationals were in solidarity throughout.
First Aiders treat a man injured in the crush (Photo: Leah Tillmann-Morris)
Jerusalem and Gaza, Less than 100km apart
The level of aggression of the Border Police used was shocking. Following a similar policy of unnecessary intimidation, (as had been used only the day before on "Jerusalem Day") at Damascus Gate, where horse-riding police would more than once scatter the people waiting around to get into the old city (in this case, not even demonstrating)), on Monday the Border Police charged down the road after the Palestinian demonstrators as they left. Not only was disproportionate force used by the police and Border Police, but violent arrests were again only directed at the one ethnic/national group. Activists present say they are making preparations to sue over the violent mistreatment and abuse of peaceful protestors. So while the world’s attention was diverted by the appearance of Ivanka Trump less than 200m away and deaths at the Gaza border less than 100km away, activists in Jerusalem on Monday sent out the signal of the bitter struggle of opposition to the embassy move, within both the international community and Palestine-Israel.