The idea was to put up a sukkah to honor the holiday values of shelter, protection, and home by raising awareness about home demolitions in East Jerusalem. My initial thought was that we, the ICAHD volunteers, would destroy the sukkah in order to bring home the message about demolitions, but we decided that a destruction might be misinterpreted and could get dangerous. So we would just hand out materials.
This morning, at about 10 am, we set up the sukkah. It was small, 1.7 meters tall to be exact, and not very stable. During the two hours we were in the office waiting for more volunteers, the sukkah fell over on its own. To be sure, ICAHD builds real houses much better than this sukkah was built.
At 12 pm, Meir Margalit, ICAHD’s field coordinator, Jessica and I went outside to re-set the sukkah. We hung pictures of home demolitions on the inside three walls and added the roof, which was a sheet with the hebrew words “Sukkah of Just Peace” written on the front.
At 12:45, Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrived with resources from Rabbis for Human Rights- materials from demolished homes, posters, children’s drawings of home demolitions, and flyers saying “Home Demolitions are Against the Torah”. Rabbi Ascherman couldn’t stay to help us hand out materials, so we were on our own. We started handing out information on home demolitions, ICAHD, and “Home Demolitions are Against the Torah”. Jessica, Meir and I were soon joined by another activist, Ruti.
The reactions to our sukkah were mild at first. Some people took the materials without a word. Some people read the headlines and handed the sheets back to us with a smile. Some didn’t smile. Meir was called a “communist”. I believe I was called an “Arab”. Many people asked “What about Gush Katif?” One mother allowed her children into the sukkah to see the pictures, and let me explain what we were doing, but refused to take any information. Some people engaged in short discussions. A municipality worker was standing on the nearby corner, talking on his cell phone and looking over at us suspiciously.
The reaction did not stay mild. At about 1:30, an older man came over to ask what we were doing. Meir spoke to him and offered him information, and we continued handing out pamphlets. Then I heard someone shouting behind me. When I turned around, the older man was reaching out to strike Meir. The man grabbed Meir’s shirt, screaming at him in Hebrew, and angrily struck Meir. The two scuffled for a moment before anyone really noticed. A crowd began to gather as the man continued to hit Meir. At one point he was grabbing Meir’s neck as if to strangle him. Meir put up his arms to defend himself, and tried to push the man off of him, but could not escape from his grips. Finally, some men stepped in to separate the angry man from the activist, but they too were shouting at Meir. The older man continued to shout and began to shove at the sukkah. Somehow a small mob came together and violently toppled the little sukkah. The ruins of our sukkah lay amongst the pieces of ruined homes, and the broken picture frame from one child’s home demolition drawing.
I didn’t know what to do while Meir was being attacked. Several people called the police. I suppose I had figured that with so many bystanders we would have some protection in numbers. But when the numbers are against you there is no protection.
To the onlookers who asked, I explained that we were Jews who had set up a sukkah to honor the Jewish values of shelter and safety for everyone, but that some other Jews had destroyed it because they didn’t appreciate the message. I think it’s very threatening to a lot of people to extend our Jewish values to others. It’s threatening to be faced with contradictions in the values, especially if you don’t believe it’s a contradiction.
So, instead of large groups of activists destroying our own sukkah, a large group of participant-observers destroyed it for us. Meir is fine. I’m sorry that the point had to be made this way. I’m not sure if it was even made. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me.
We wanted to continue, to rebuild and try again. The police arrived ten minutes too late, and would not stay to allow us the proctection to continue. The executive decision was made to clean up the project. With a few more pamphlets handed to onlookers, we gathered our materials and sought refuge in the ICAHD office.
This report has been brought to you by Rosi, a refugee of the Human Rights Sukkah, volunteer with the Israeli Committee Against Sukkah Demolitions, ICASD