Posted on December 4, 2009, by & filed under Personal Experiences.

It is 1:30 am, and I just came back from Sheikh Jarrah _I see Jerusalem in flames, and know than my words will not succeed in conveying the horror of what I saw or the dread in my heart.. writes Rabbi Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights.

Today the court ruled in favor of the settlers who had taken over part of yet another family’s home in Sheikh Jarakh. Because a lawyer for some of the families in the 1980’s recognized Jewish ownership in return for protected tenant’s status, the addition the El-Kurd family made to their home was deemed illegal. They had to ask permission from the “owners” to do it. Did the court order the addition demolished or a fine paid? Of course not. Why, anybody should be able to understand that the only logical thing to do was to let settlers move in to the extension.

All day the tension was palpable, sometimes breaking into physical violence. People warily looked at me to determine if I was friend or foe, until I got close enough to be recognized and greeted in Arabic the newcomers who didn’t recognize me., Palestinians backed by Israelis and internationals huddled around fires, keeping a watchful eye out, as Arab music reminded settlers huddled inside their new acquisition just where they were. Nasser Ghawi is closing in on his fourth month in a pitiful lean to across the street from where 6 settler families lived in his home, with a constant stream of visitors in and out. He asked me if there was any hope left. Usually full of optimism in even the most difficult situations, I could only mouth some meaningless platitudes about looking for new legal options. Yesterday Maya, our staff person who spends the most time in Sheikh Jarakh, asked me where justice was. I didn’t have an answer for her either.

All of a sudden a group of settlers and their supporters comes to the Ghawi home amidst cat calls and insults hurled by Palestinians seeking an outlet for their seething anger and pain. The settler group moves closer and wants to come in to congratulate those within. Everybody jumps to their feet and the gate is slammed shut, but there are settlers already inside as well as outside. I am amazed that no fights break out. The taunts get louder and more vicious. Some spit at the settlers. In similar situations I have urged Palestinians to calm down, but here I felt that I had no right and that it would do no good. The only comment I responded to was when somebody said in Arabic that they wished Hitler had finished the job. I tried to think of what I could do if things escalated further, and didn’t come up with any answers. The settlers keep staring at me and my kippah. They don’t get it.

The most terrifying indication that we were at the brink of conflagration was that the police did not wade violently into the Palestinians or arrest people for having the wrong look on their faces, as so often happens in Sheikh Jarrah. I even saw one of the officers trying to clear the way for settlers to come in and out snarl at one of the settlers and tell him that he dare not touch anybody. In other situations I would have been pleasantly surprised, but here this was an indication that the police also knew that they were sitting on top of a volcano about to blow.

Maya arrives. I say to her, “It will be a miracle if the night passes without an explosion.”

Every few minutes a new group of settlers comes to look, to smile. At one point a settler inside comes demanding that the Palestinians turn off the blaring music. I have visions of what will happen if he pulls a plug or smashes something. I remind him of the Jewish teaching, “You don’t rebuke somebody in the midst of their sorrow. ” He goes back in, as Palestinians shout and rattle the windows. One woman addresses at length the Druze officer guarding the door to the captured room. I can only imagine what she is saying. What is said in Hebrew again and again is, “This is your system of law?” I can only answer what I learned years ago, “Not everything that is ‘legal’ is just.”

The worst of it is that I don’t know what to suggest. Israel’s democracy has failed up until now. International pressure has failed up until now. The activist community has failed up until now.

Although his worst predictions that their actions would cause the inhabitants of the land to rise up and destroy them never came true, our ancestor Jacob cursed his sons Simeon and Levi until his dying day for their violent and brutal act of revenge in this week’s Torah portion: ‘Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my prson be included in their council, let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men, and when pleased they maim oxen.’

I hope that I too am wrong. What is the big deal here? Be angry and upset, but why so worried about one more incident of helpless Palestinian fury directed at an Israeli injustice? Why should activists spend a sleepless cold Jerusalem night huddling in front of a fire. Why should the political echelons and the courts shake themselves out of their torpor. Can’t the international community feel satisfied with itself over it’s “strong protest?”

Because this is Jerusalem. As I wrote a week and a half ago, I see a Palestinian anger burning so strong that, unlike what usually happens, neither the threat of arrest or the use of overwhelming force is a deterrent. That means a third intifada. That means that the fact that the world community forcing Israel into a settlement freeze (perhaps) may be too little too late. That means that the Obama administration remains a laughingstock at best, and in many quarters the U.S. is again the subject of scorn and derision.

I see Jerusalem in flames _ I see Armageddon straight ahead. I see everywhere complacent alarm. I know that tens will answer our call to demonstrate today (see previous email below or call Maya at 054-7423044), but we need hundreds and thousands. The diplomats will write urgent reports, but we need effective pressure. The peace and human rights community will say that this is terrible, but we need them to come out of their homes. The politicians will say that it is a matter for the courts and that they can’t interfere, while the courts will say that the law takes precedence over their personal conscience. The police will prepare emergency plans. If nothing changes (olam c’minhago noheg), Jerusalem will burn.