Several arrested at Washington protest against Sheikh Jarrah expulsions

A protest organiser leads a crowd in a series of chants in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington (Umar Farooq - MEE)

Umar Farooq

Middle East Eye  /  January 24, 2022

Hundreds staged a sit-in at the Israeli embassy in Washington to protest forced expulsions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood.

Several people were arrested on Sunday after a day of largely peaceful protest outside of the Israeli embassy in Washington, where hundreds gathered to condemn the forced expulsions of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and other areas of occupied Palestine.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists gathered in front of the embassy to protest Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. After blocking off a road in front of the embassy, protesters set up three tents and laid down banners in front of the building’s gate.

Many of the demonstrators wore black and white keffiyehs, a headscarf that has come to symbolize Palestinian resistance against colonialism and the Israeli occupation, as they held up placards saying, “Hands off Sheikh Jarrah!”

The Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), the organization which organized the sit-in, said seven demonstrators were arrested after the protest had largely ended and they were being held in two precincts in Washington.

The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia referred Middle East Eye to the US Secret Service for comment, and the Secret Service did not respond by the time of publication.

The sit-in came amid widespread condemnation over Israel’s decision last week to demolish the home of the Salhiya family in Sheikh Jarrah, leaving 18 people, including children, homeless.

The demolition was carried out on Wednesday by a large Israeli security operation that saw Israeli forces violently raid the home of Mahmoud Salhiya before arresting him, a number of his relatives and supporters.

Sheikh Jarrah has become a flashpoint over the past year, as the Israeli government has tried to expel multiple families from the neighbourhood in order to make way for Israeli settlers.

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and subsequently annexed it in 1980, settlers have been trying to displace Palestinians from their homes in the area based on claims of Jewish ownership dating back to the Ottoman era.

“We all came out here today to protest against the US complicity in the war crimes and funding of these war crimes that Israel’s committing against the Palestinian people,” an organizer with the PYM, who asked to remain anonymous, told MEE. Eye.

“Israel is currently ethnically cleansing Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, in Al-Naqab, and in Al-Khalil. And we don’t want our tax dollars to go towards that.”

‘It’s like we’re back to square one’

At present, 37 Palestinian families live in Sheikh Jarrah, six of them facing imminent eviction. 

Since 2020, Israeli courts have ordered the eviction of 13 Palestinian families in the neighbourhood. Last May, the forced evictions of multiple families ignited an international protest movement, with tens of thousands of people marching in Washington, New York, London and many other major cities across the world.

Celebrities including Bella Hadid, Mark Ruffalo, The Weeknd, Halsey, and Kehlani, all came out in solidarity with Palestinians, either directly participating in protests or sharing content on social media.

Since then, despite the continued protests, some protesters told MEE that momentum seems to have died down.

“It feels like last year all over again. And it’s really frustrating to feel like we’re kind of back to square one,” said Dalia, a protester who asked that her last name not be revealed.

“So we’re hoping that this event and this action will revitalize the protest movement.”

However, Dalia noted that since last May, the crowds attending these protests had become more diverse, showing that the cause for Palestinian rights is being supported not only by the Palestinian community in the US. More and more Americans understand the plight of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Polling over the past year has shown that there has been a shift when it comes to the discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a Gallup poll released in March 2021 finding that the majority of Democrats felt the US should be putting more pressure on the Israeli government.

“I’m very hopeful when I see so many people from so many different backgrounds showing up and helping us because it’s exhausting doing this alone,” Dalia said.

“We’re constantly bombarded with information. We have to be on top of everything and it’s good to know that we have a community to rely on.”

Umar Farooq is a journalist based in Washington DC