Thursday and Saturday nights in downtown Jerusalem have become terrifying. On those days, a group of youth gathers in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square, often next to a permanent pop-up stand manned by members of anti-miscegenation groupLehava. The youth meet there and then take to the streets chanting “Death to Arabs,” harassing and assaulting Arab cab drivers, women in hijabs and businesses that employ Arabs. Since they became active, fewer and fewer Palestinians have been stepping foot in this part of the city.
The few left-wing activists who dare to be out on the streets on these nights usually walk alongside the youth, quietly, documenting their actions and calling the police – but without getting involved, knowing full well that the violence could at any moment be directed at them. Recently, however, they decided to change their approach. Last Thursday, around 200 of them gathered in Zion Square to stand up to the violence.
That night marked the (temporary) crystallization of left-wing self defense groups in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel. Not many could have known, but among those 200 protesters were a few dozen who came prepared for the possibility of a violent confrontation with right-wing extremists.
“It was the most significant left-wing event in Jerusalem since the protests in Sheikh Jarrah,” one veteran activist said.
“The collective, anti-racist presence was no less than amazing,” said Eyal, another activist from Jerusalem. “A month ago, you couldn’t imagine such an event; not just being defensive and under the radar, but attacking, marking territory, marking our enemies and saying loud and clear that they are illegitimate – that they have no place in the public discourse. It means coming out in numbers, coming with confidence, showing strength and being ready in the event we are attacked.”
“Let’s just say we came prepared. Definitely prepared. Out of 200 protesters, 40-50 knew how to respond. If the situation presented itself – they knew what to do. By interposing themselves and defending, not attacking or looking to fight. But they know very well how to if need be,” he said.