Updated: Feb 10
Yesterday started with something else, a demonstration in support of Silwan village residents who are in
danger of being evicted from their homes. A Border Police vehicle at the beginning of the ascent to the neighborhood seems to be saying: "Welcome to East Jerusalem." There, in front of mountain views and twinkling lights, speeches against the evacuation are heard along with cries against the occupation and government corruption. The Balfour protestation is expanding, and it feels very good.
My column / Nurit Sharett
I was standing on the side, near the wall of a house and one man started talking to me: "Glad to see you here with us." He told me that he is originally from Jordan and that his wife is Israeli and that they are in danger of being evicted from their home. “Do you see that gate? It's our house, we like to live here and we don't want to go.'' Thus, in one sentence he summed up the whole matter. A gentle and pleasant-mannered man, with a family who is in danger of being expelled from his home, while the people in front of his house are shouting, "From Balfour to Silwan Democracy for all."
Suddenly a car approaches and honks non-stop, a shielded vehicle of the Border Police that must pass right now in the middle of the crowd. So the driver honks with force, the crowd moves aside, forming a passage, the vehicle moves on and the crowd closes back like a sea that has been split in two and shut back leaving no trace of the land that was revealed.
The procession sets off and we ascend steeply. Marching together, Jews and Arabs in a joint procession. In the courtyards of the houses, on the balconies, and on the roofs, people stood and clapped, photographing the marchers with a smile on their faces. There was excitement in the air. And so, we climbed up the hill, passed a Border Police jeep with a policewoman bearing a loaded rifle. A sight I have seen several times in demonstrations, even in Balfour, but I will never get used to it.
We walked along the walls, passed by the Dung Gate (which leads to the wailing wall) and there was a commotion. One policeman snatched the Palestinian flag from the hands of a demonstrator. Nir Avishai Cohen, a former spokesman for Breaking the Silence, tried to explain to the police that there is no law forbidding waving the flag. The tone of their voices rises high but they do not really hear each other. Nir finally gives up and continues walking.
The policewoman ‘so-maybe’ suddenly emerges and hands out hearts to the children who are standing with their parents watching the procession. The parents call "Kull al Ithiram" Bravo! and the children choose a color and point to a sticker, getting a red heart on the forehead and smiling proudly.
We keep walking past religious children cursing us and one man shouting, "Go away!" as if we were stray cats, I ignore him and keep walking. Ascending and then descending. To our left the Hinnom Valley and the walls of the old city, in the background protestors constantly crying for democracy and against corruption. As we get closer to the west of the city there is excitement among the young people from Silwan who are not used to being at the city center. When we reach Mamilla junction and Agron street huge amounts of policemen and vehicles block the junction and we ascend Agron reaching Paris Square uniting with the crowds already there.
The square was calm and after a while, I started to get bored and wanted to go home. But then I saw people running towards Keren Hayesod st. and I realized that a procession was trying to go out and hurried there. I arrived just as the cops decided to stop the procession and blocked the exit. So it happened that after a few people went out, the exit was blocked. I stood on a low fence and photographed the growing commotion and someone asking a young policeman:
"Can I pass?"
"That is the directive".
I see Naava talking to cops, trying to convince them to let some seniors go home.
Behind me, in front of me and to my side people shouting and pushing. I am afraid to get crushed and move aside and for a moment an opening is formed between two iron fences and I pass to the other side walking freely on the road. Moving away from a tight group of people, I continue to photograph those left across the checkpoint shouting at the police and suddenly hear my name and see Liat across the fence.
She shouts to me asking if it is true that Assaf Agmon (a former pilot and commander with the Israeli air force, one of the Balfour protestation leaders) is lying on the road after having a heart attack.
As I approach I see Tally the paramedic kneeling, and Orly Barlev and a few other people and people circling around them and I understand that Assaf is lying there not knowing what his condition is. I walk away, thinking about him and wishing in my heart that all this angry crowd would calm down for a moment and be quiet and that people would move back and give him some air. Not understanding why an ambulance did not arrive. I stand on a step on the iron barrier and see Anat from the mothers from above, as in a movie scene, trying to free herself from four policemen who are holding her violently. Going down I call to her, “Antti, come with me," and pull her hand. The cops let go and walk aside. A paramedic on a motorcycle comes from the direction of the square and policemen open a passage for him between two iron fences and he goes to the circle that is around Assaf. I recognize Ofek among the people next to Assaf and look at him asking "How is he?" He signals yes with his head and swings his thumb up and I relax a bit.
But what about the ambulance, why is there no ambulance for more than half an hour?
Then some paramedics arrive on foot with a folding stretcher and approach Assaf and I try to keep the people away. "A little privacy gives him air", an ultra-Orthodox man with a white shirt and black jacket tells me "why is the photographer allowed to come near and I am not?" I walk away from him and see a young woman approaching resolutely, I say to her: "give him privacy". '' This is my father '' she answers and keeps going.
I see Assaf sitting leaning against someone, looking unconscious, and finally, the ambulance backs up and lifts him up there for a flock of photographers to photograph him. I am disgusted by this whole situation and walk away.
Then I see Assaf's daughter sitting alone on a bench. I approach her and hug her, and she says he is fine. We are sitting together, she says she saw him in the distance, recognized the red coat moving among the people and suddenly disappear and realized he had fallen. "But he's fine."
I go back to take some pictures and then I meet the mothers who were there and we go back to the square and meet the mothers who managed to join the procession before the road was blocked.
It turns out that they say that Kobi Yaakobi (chief of Moria police station) apparently prevented the ambulance from entering because "this is just Assaf's drama." And that one of the policemen was overheard saying, "I would have solved all this with four stun grenades. "I feel as if I came out of a boiling pot full of swirling bubbles. When a police car drives through the square and announces "Please clear the intersection, the junction is open" we decide it is time to go home. On the way, we pass a group of policemen and I hear one policeman explain to his friend: ''Do you see them? This is the mother patrol”.