Looking back on the past year, Ir Amim’s Aviv Tatarsky feels proudest of his and his colleagues’ involvement in connecting Israeli activists to East Jerusalem Palestinians and supporting them to act side by side against oppression.

And in an unusual development, a critical analysis Aviv wrote for Ir Amim in response to an article by a senior security official in a Defense Department Journal (Ben Haktavim) on the widespread violence that erupted in Jerusalem of 2014-2015 was accepted for publication. Aviv used the official’s arguments to demonstrate that Israel would only gain if it stopped oppressing nonviolent protest in East Jerusalem.

Other accomplishments this year: Aviv’s and Ir Amim’s efforts to protect the residents of Isawiya from daily, unwarranted police brutality (Aviv explains the Isawiya situation in a previous story about him here), their work to raise awareness about this situation in Israel and internationally, and their support of efforts – such as a letter from 40 Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem school principals – to oppose it. After one death, hundreds of injuries, hundreds of false arrests and sowing fear in Isawiya residents to the point that they are afraid to walk in the streets, the daily police actions are ruining all trust that Isawiya residents still had in Israeli authorities, Aviv says.

Aviv and Ir Amim also used a state-sponsored invitation to the Israeli public to enjoy a new national park on the agricultural lands of the farmers of the village of Walaje to raise awareness about what is really going on there. In the annual “Open Houses” event as well as on the Sukkot holiday, Ir Amim, together with dozens of activists, explained to Israeli visitors to the “park” and its spring that this is no innocent green space, but the result of the dispossession of Palestinian farmers from their olive groves and thus from a major source of their income.

“In the end, the authorities found themselves having to explain to visitors why they’re throwing Palestinians off their land,” says Aviv.

As part of their continuing efforts to bring the human rights’ violations in East Jerusalem to the awareness of the Israeli public, Ir Amim invited Israelis to visit Palestinians in their homes on Sukkot and to hear firsthand about the constant feeling of threat, the home demolitions, and the gross inequality in services that residents there experience.

The 20,000 residents of Isawiya, the 2,500 residents of Walaje, and hundreds of residents of Ras al-Amud and Wadi Joz, with whom Ir Amim works against home demolitions, as well as hundreds of Israeli activists who responded to Ir Amim’s solidarity efforts, were affected by Aviv’s and Ir Amim’s work this year. Moreover, Aviv escorted Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy to see the situation in Walaje and his article about it garnered 10,000 shares.

But none of this is enough for Aviv.

“We’re in one of the worst times of oppression and violation of human rights in Jerusalem,” he claims. “Israeli occupation of Jerusalem is stronger than ever and instead of Israel feeling more secure and letting Jerusalem Palestinians live good lives, the state uses its power to increasingly fragment the Palestinian community – home demolitions, evictions, the situation in Isawiya. So we have a lot of work to do. And we’re not the strong side.”

What needs to happen for things to change?

“In order for things to change, we need to strengthen the forces in Israel that are against the occupation, and are for equality and human rights. They need to stop talking about negotiations and grand ‘solutions for the conflict’, since for now these will not lead anywhere. Instead, the Israeli peace camp needs to learn to stand in solidarity with East Jerusalem Palestinians against different forms of state violence: home demolitions, excessive policing etc. and fight with them for equal education and services.  East Jerusalem Palestinians need to become empowered so that a local leadership can develop that will demand its rights and challenge the occupation and the oppression,” says Aviv.

If he had more resources at his disposal, Aviv would take every high school student in the western part of the city to East Jerusalem to see the reality there with their own eyes. He would do more research to demonstrate the economic harm to both sides that results from Israel’s policies in the eastern part of the city.

“And I would tell Jewish donors whom the state solicits to fund improved infrastructure, employment and education in East Jerusalem – all good and necessary – that they should demand that their funds go towards the biggest problems: to teach police how to act without resorting to collective punishment. To develop master plans that will enable East Jerusalem to receive building permits.  To stop the neglect of the neighborhoods beyond the barrier, where one-third of East Jerusalem residents live and which hardly benefit from any of the state’s efforts.”

Despite what he sees as a worsening situation and the huge challenges he faces daily, Aviv says he feels “great satisfaction in being part of an organization that analyzes reality accurately and acts with Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalemites together to make a better future for the city’s residents.

“The fact that I can act in this reality, to oppose it, to connect between people and to try to influence policy is my top priority. And it can’t be done without the financial support that Ir Amim receives from committed organizations like NIF Canada. We are always aware and grateful for this.”

Aviv says he was amazed and moved by his recent visit to NIF Canada. “I deeply felt the strength of this network of support,” he says. “It was incredible to meet so many people, living on the other side of the world, who are knowledgeable about and pained by what is going on here. And who care so much.

With their support, we will continue.”

Written and reported by Ruth Mason.

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