Confessions of a Provocateur
I am not comfortable with the amount of attention around my arrest. Many Silwan residents have been arrested and I am not even the first Israeli to be arrested there. However, I am grateful for all of the support and if the fact that people know me helps to uncover the injustice and discrimination taking place in Silwan, than so be it. As advocate Gabi Laski said in court today, it is “eifa v’eifa.”
The reason why I chose to spend a night in jail and not agree to a restraining order keeping me from Silwan is not only because I didn’t do any of what it was said that I did. The police version changes from minute to minute, but apparently they are saying that I grabbed an ElAd person to prevent him from evacuating the injured driver (I wasn’t even in the area at that time) and because I told Silwan residents not to listen to the police. The opposite is true. The reason that I chose to spend a night in jail is because we read in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), “Where nobody is acting like a decent human being, try to be a decent human being” (2:6) Where the legal and law enforcement systems are not fulfilling their duty to protect the residents of Silwan who with great bravery are leading the struggle to defend their neighborhood, there have to be decent human beings who will do so.
Despite the fact that the excavations ElAd is conducting in a totally irresponsible way have already caused the main street to cave in repeatedly and have caused cracks in houses, the High Court did not issue an order stopping the excavations until they hear the case. Then the police burst into homes at 4:00 am and arrested 5 people who just happened to be members of the families who had appealed to the High Court the day before.
Two residents and an Israeli activist that came the police station to lodge complaints about a previous attack were themselves arrested. (This is not the first time in Silwan. For example, a few months ago, by happenstance, the police broke into a home, busted down the doors, and turned the house upside down “looking for drugs,” in a home that ElAd had set its eyes upon. ) That day I got to Silwan late. The police had phoned the previous evening to say that there would be an opportunity for the residents of Silwan to view the archeological digs in the morning and that they had also been told not to go ahead with the children’s concert they were intending to put on that evening. The residents were suspicious and requested the presence of Israelis.
When I reached Silwan, there was already a quarrel in progress since a truck driver had blocked the road and entrance to the demonstrator’s tent with a container of trash from the area and had been injured. The people connected to Elad sent for an ambulance which arrived a few minutes after I did as well as several other Israelis. While they removed the wounded man on a stretcher, I heard some noise and saw that one of the people of Elad had grabbed a Palestinian and was choking him. Afterward some of the Elad people wanted to break into the house. Residents, some Israelis and perhaps some of the guards attempted to stop this, but somehow the Palestinians and human rights workers were sprayed with pepper gas.
One of the Palestinians was taken to the hospital suffering blows and the spray of pepper gas. To their credit, the medics can say that they cared for the Palestinians even though they were told by the members of Elad to leave him alone and said that there was someone else in their group who was injured. (As far as I know, there was no one else injured – at least no one else was carried away.)
I noticed that the Elad man who had grabbed the Palestinian and choked him was accosting policemen to talk to them to tell them his version of the events. Afterward, as I told the policemen that I had seen the members of Elad attacking, he threatened to sue me, put a recording device in front of me and begin to ask me several questions which I refused to answer. All this time, I also attempted to take care of a resident of Silwan who was wounded, and to demand of the police that they do their job and separate the two sides as well as to ask the members of Elad to keep their distance and the people of Silwan not to escalate the situation.
The response of the police and the members of Elad was to shout. The police began demanding identity papers, and when one of the residents had to return to his house in order to bring it, the policemen sent a soldier with him. At the entrance to the house, the soldier and the resident began to exchange words. Suddenly the soldier seized him and arrested him. The police were so nervous that they became unreasonable. Afterwards, when I was asked to come to the stationhouse to testify, I asked an officer if I should ride there in a police car or in my own automobile. Through his excessive shouting at me, he was not able to hear the question. A superior officer arrived at the scene. Naturally, he only spoke to the members of Elad.
Later, I and three other activists stood and waited, as requested, several hours. They said they were waiting for two other witnesses. It seemed to me that the police wanted the complaints of the members of Elad before they spoke to us. In the end, we left and I returned the next day after the investigator excused the other three but said that he wanted the, “the taller bearded gentleman.” Seemingly, the members of Elad singled me out after I said at the altercation that I had seen them attacking. When I arrived, I saw 3 members of Elad waiting, looking at me, whispering, then entering into a conversation with the investigator and leaving. Afterward, I gave my version of the events and I was informed that I must agree to a restraining order to distance myself from Silwan for 15 days as a condition for my freedom, and I refused. As I said earlier, I saw this as a request with which I could not comply in light of the danger which surrounded the residents of Silwan – not as a professional matter, nor as Rabbi but simply what is demanded of a human being.
I asked why the members of Elad had not received a restraining order. The chief investigator said that this was his concern and added that ,”there are those who come to work and there are those who come to cause trouble. You cause trouble.” Throughout the course of time, those who stand up for their rights and those who stand at their side are called “troublemakers because there would be quiet and the ability to go about one’s business if only they would all accept their downtrodden condition.”
On the eve of Purim, it is appropriate to mention that Mordecai and Esther were “troublemakers.” The police brought me to jail and said terrible things about Moslems, and of course said, “the poor of your own city take precedence.” I asked who were the poor of the city and also mentioned the work we do on behalf of Jews – but this story I will tell at another opportunity. Today, in court, the lawyer Gabi Laski mentioned the surprising discriminatory relationship with the residents of Silwan. The chief investigator said that he has no complaints from the residents of Silwan. Gabi, of course, reminded the court that the last time we complained about the treatment of the people in Silwan, residents of Silwan had been arrested, but this was struck from the court record.
I received a restraining order from the Judge though he had not paid attention at all to the discussion. This time I agreed, since I was not going to Silwan on Shabbat and on Sunday we will appeal the ruling. I will have a difficult time deciding what to do if we lose an appeal on Sunday, but my decision will be easier if we have 100 Israelis, including rabbis, standing in Silwan in my stead. It is very hard to write these words. However, it is only for one day a year that we are commanded to drink until we do not know the difference between “Blessed be Morcechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” The rest of the year we must know, and we must effect tikkun.