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In East Jerusalem, nightly raids leave Palestinian neighborhood reeling

For the past six weeks, Israel has been sending paramilitary police forces to raid the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya every evening. The raids, a severe form of collective punishment, have left one young Palestinian dead and hundreds wounded.

By Aviv Tatarsky

Palestinian women look on during a raid by Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women look on during a raid by Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

It’s 5:30 p.m. and some 10 large police vans rumble into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. The next few hours will follow a strict script: the vans stop in a central place in the neighborhood — a mosque, a commercial area, or a main junction. Dozens of paramilitary police officers roll out and stake out positions around the block.

The word “police” is misleading here. Some of them are soldiers belonging to a Border Police unit, while other belong to the special police squad which is designed to put down riots and stop terrorism. They refer to themselves with the same term used to describe combat soldiers rather than law enforcement officers.

What are dozens of hyper-militarized officers doing inside a neighborhood of East Jerusalem? Which Bin Laden did they come to catch today? Sometimes what’s more important than any analysis is the understanding that this is the occupation — that looking for any other explanation misses this banal yet crucial point.

They stand there, rifles drawn. Women, children, and impatient teenagers have to brush against them on their way to the store or a friend’s home. Cars are randomly stopped while the officers inspect their documents, causing long traffic jams.

The police vehicles simply block the junction so that for long periods of time drivers — coming back home from work or on their way to a wedding — are completely stuck and cannot go anywhere. Day after day, Issawiya’s 20,000 residents clench their teeth and try to ignore the armed raids that have been occurring for the past six weeks. Most of the time, they show incredible restraint. Most of the time, however, it seems the riot police themselves are trying to start a riot.

WATCH: Israeli riot police raid the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya

The police officers stand in the street for hours, half afraid, half bored. Nothing really happens, and they know too well from previous evenings that nothing will happen.

When “softer” forms of harassment don’t help, the commanders begin to initiate the riot. They will stop a young man at random while aggressively shouting at him or frisking him. They will approach a group of teenagers minding their own business near one of the stores and threaten them to “get the hell out of here or else.” Sooner or later something works: someone dares speak back to them, or a stone is thrown from somewhere out of sight.

At that moment, the situation becomes a “security threat,” and the paramilitary police are allowed to mete out violence. But against whom? This is still a neighborhood; there is no armed enemy in sight, not to mention any rioters. Yet the protocol calls for “clearing the area,” so everyone comes a target. Physical violence, stun grenades, and pepper spray are used, affecting not only those who happen to be in the street but also all those who remain indoors.

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It all lasts around an hour. During that time, residents will have to choose between helping their relatives, neighbors, or friends who were arbitrarily pounced upon by the police, or those hiding to protect themselves from becoming a target.

They make a few arrests before the paramilitary police step back into their vans or march single file down the street and out of the neighborhood, weapons drawn. Those who were arrested are released within 24 hours, sometimes faster. In one case, the police shot and killed 20-year-old Mohammad Obeid during a raid on the neighborhood, claiming that he had launched fireworks at them during one such raid. Residents accused the police of using excessive force and shooting Obeid from close range.

Family members mourn 20-year-old Mohammad Obeid after he was killed by police during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Family members mourn 20-year-old Mohammad Obeid after he was killed by police during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This is more or less what has been taking place in since June 12. The raids are unprecedented and nothing like I have ever witnessed in all the years I have been working in East Jerusalem.

It’s not that Israel is shy about collective punishment. In 2014 and 2015, when a wave of Palestinian violence shook Jerusalem, Israeli authorities used violent measures that targeted hundreds of thousands of innocent East Jerusalemites. But even then, nothing came close to this.

What more, the term “collective punishment” is probably not applicable to the events in Issawiya: I have found no reports of violence originating from Issawiya that could – according to the logic of the occupation – be the reason for Israel’s violent campaign against the neighborhood.

Which begs the obvious question: why is this happening?

An obvious “reason” would be violence against Israelis in the vicinity of the neighborhood – whether in the French Hill neighborhood, which was built on land expropriated from Issawiya, or the highway to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, which runs adjacent to the neighborhood and separates it from land that is necessary for its development (the highway, too, was built on land expropriated from Issawiya).

Indeed, police spokespersons have reputedly told journalists that the raids are a result of large riots. “We are fighting terrorism so that it doesn’t slip into West Jerusalem,” one journalist was told. When the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, which focuses on turning Jerusalem into a more just and sustainable city, sent a letter to the Jerusalem Police district chief demanding that he put a stop to the raids, this was the response the organization received:

In recent weeks hundreds of riots and severe incidents of violence took place in Issawiya. These targeted Israeli police as well as Israeli civilians driving on the highway to Ma’ale Adumin. They included firing live ammunition, throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks, and throwing stones, and resulted in the injury of Israeli civilians. Israel Police will continue to act against terrorists.

Yet the facts tell a different story. Israelis wounded by live ammunition or Molotov cocktails would have made headlines in Israel. But there have been no such reports for many months before or since the police raids began in June. Indeed, despite the six weeks of ongoing raids, the police have not confiscated a single weapon, nor has any Issawiya resident been arrested and accused of involvement in such activity. It is very rare that Israel – with everything it invests in Palestinian collaborators and other forms of spying on the civilian Palestinian population – is not able to point to a single perpetrator of violence against Israelis.

Wanting to make sure, I made a few other inquiries. Extreme right-wing groups rigorously document incidents of Palestinian violence, and the footage often serves to incite violence by Jews against Palestinians, as well as to put pressure on Israeli authorities to take a hardline approach. Despite the many dozens of incidents of violence from East Jerusalem and the West Bank – including stone throwing to stabbings and shootings – the documentation does not mention Issawiya before the raids began. I also spoke with people living in French Hill and in the settlements who use the highway next to the neighborhood. They said that no recent incidents had caused alarm in their communities.

Israeli police officers seen confronting the residents of Issawiya during the funeral of Mohammad Obeid, who was shot dead by the police in late June, East Jerusalem, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli police officers seen confronting the residents of Issawiya during the funeral of Mohammad Obeid, who was shot dead by the police in late June, East Jerusalem, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But when trying to “find a reason,” there are one should look in other directions. Instead of asking why the police are doing this, one could ask why the police and the Israeli government are able to continue to wage this campaign for six weeks? How is it possible that the Israeli public is not demanding an end to this?

Israeli activists have been coming to Issawiya on a daily basis, and together with local residents are documenting the police violence. In the first couple of weeks the presence of Israelis seemed to cause the police to act with a measure of restraint. This daily solidarity – not without its own risk – has allowed human rights workers to report in great detail what has been taking place in the neighborhood. At the end of the day, however, the political influence of these activists remains marginal.

Honest media reporting would have put the police in an uncomfortable position. While the press often does this in cases of police brutality towards ultra-Orthodox Jews or Ethiopian-Israelis, in Issawiya, and apart save from rare exceptions, the Israeli media has either kept silent or served as a mouthpiece for the police.

A Palestinian demonstrator launches fireworks during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian demonstrator launches fireworks during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, July 1, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

One must also wonder what exactly is Israel trying to achieve through this unending and deadly campaign. To offer an answer one should zoom out and look at the larger picture of what is taking place in Jerusalem.

The campaign against Issawiya signals a new stage in Israel’s oppressive policies in East Jerusalem, and is part of the overall change in Israeli policy toward the Palestinians with the backing of the Trump administration.

In the past, Israel primarily focused on settlement construction in the eastern part of the city. By building so-called “facts on the ground,” the government intended to make it as difficult as possible to draw a border along the Green Line and create two capitals in Jerusalem. Today that focus has dangerously shifted to breaking apart Palestinian Jerusalem.

Israel is pouring hundreds of millions of shekels into projects that will take over large parts of the the Old City and its surrounding neighborhoods, while fragmenting Palestinian territory and jeopardizing the Palestinian population. Neighborhoods such as Silwan, A-Tur and Sheikh Jarrah have seen an intensification of home demolitions and evictions on the one hand, while on the other the municipality has built promenades, heritage centers, and other tourist attractions for the Jewish settlers living inside Palestinian neighborhoods .

Meanwhile, Israel is aiming to redraw the city’s municipal borders so as to push 120,000 Palestinians — more than a third of the city’s Palestinian population — out of the city. According to legislation advanced last year by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, neighborhoods such as Kufr Aqab, Ras Hamis and the Shuafat refugee camp — already separated from the rest of the city by the separation wall — will be drawn out of the municipal boundaries.

Issawiya, then, portends what Israel has in store for the remaining Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem: continual violence that has no aim other than oppressing and making life miserable for all who live there.

Aviv Tatarsky is a researcher at Ir Amim and is active in solidarity activities with Issawiya organized by Free Jerusalem.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Dan Tadmor

      This is an important read. Not short, but very perceptive, illuminating, accurate and moderately stated. It is important, I think, because it open for you to view and feel the tone, and the character, of what Israel has belatedly come to do In Jerusalem – which is in stark contrast to what Israel has been doing a year or two earlier. A change in tone, style, intentions and catastrophic results.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Amir

      Where is ishaq, he claimed that israel is the state of all citizens, jews and muslims!! And East Jerusalem residents are treated as equal citizens

      Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Border police interventions cost the authorities and taxpayers dearly. If the state undertakes them, it is not useless. Whoever does not confront the forces of order risks nothing. Moreover, on the videos accompanying this article, one can see good-natured policemen and quiet and curious passers-by. Is it necessary to remember that Israel, like all states in the world (France, etc.), has the duty of maintaining order in its capital?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Whoever does not confront the forces of order risks nothing…good-natured policemen….”

        Halevy, each time you trot out yet another brazen Orwellian lie–coldly contemptuous of (non-Jewish) human beings and of the truth–I th‌ink to my self, “he can’t possibly top this one.” And here you are topping your previous brazenness. You’re a “so bad it’s good” advertisement for the reasons the Israeli state needs to be stayed by force because there is no reasonable conversation to be had.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Romi Elnagar

      The article states, “The word “police” is misleading here.”

      That’s right. The word “terrorist” would be more appropriate.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lewis from Afula

      No mention of the lobbing of molotov cocktails and rocks by many East Jerusalem arab residents at innocent Israelis. Anyone reading this misleading joke of an article would think the Israeli police have nothing better to do with their time.

      Lets put all this into its proper long term context.
      When East Jerusalem was under Arab soveriegnty, there was no peace then either.
      These “Re-named Jordanians” are nice, peaceful people aren’t they ?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        1. Your claim is flatly contradicted by the article. (“Yet the facts tell a different story….”)

        2. You also cannot account for this: “When “softer” forms of harassment don’t help, the commanders begin to initiate the riot….”

        3. “…would think the Israeli police have nothing better to do with their time.”
        Actually, the whole point here is that this is a highly prioritized, focused, state-designed project with a clear goal of ethnic cleansing. So the police literally do NOT, in the eyes of the state, by state orders, have anything better to do.

        Three strikes and you’re out.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Comrade Ben:
          1, No mention of the throwing of molotov cocktails and rocks by East Jerusalem rebranded JORDANIANS at innocent Israelis.

          2. No mention of knife attacks by East Jerusalem rebranded JORDANIANs directed at innocent Israelis (These have gone down dramatically since 2015 due to Shin Bet expertise)

          3. No mention of East Jerusalem rebranded JORDANIANs raping Israeli women for nationalist reasons.

          Your leftist arguments are collapsing under the weight of their own nonsense.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Yet the facts tell a different story. Israelis wounded by live ammunition or Molotov cocktails would have made headlines in Israel. But there have been no such reports for many months before or since the police raids began in June. Indeed, despite the six weeks of ongoing raids, the police have not confiscated a single weapon, nor has any Issawiya resident been arrested and accused of involvement in such activity. It is very rare that Israel – with everything it invests in Palestinian collaborators and other forms of spying on the civilian Palestinian population – is not able to point to a single perpetrator of violence against Israelis.
            Wanting to make sure, I made a few other inquiries. Extreme right-wing groups rigorously document incidents of Palestinian violence, and the footage often serves to incite violence by Jews against Palestinians, as well as to put pressure on Israeli authorities to take a hardline approach. Despite the many dozens of incidents of violence from East Jerusalem and the West Bank – including stone throwing to stabbings and shootings – the documentation does not mention Issawiya before the raids began. I also spoke with people living in French Hill and in the settlements who use the highway next to the neighborhood. They said that no recent incidents had caused alarm in their communities.”

            You’re batting 0 for 2, champ.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben:
            Re: “Israelis wounded by live ammunition or Molotov cocktails would have made headlines in Israel. But there have been no such reports for many months……”

            I watch Channel 20 on Israeli TV. They have a section called the “Silenced Arab terrorism over the last 24 hours”. That tells you the TRUTH of what is happening in East Jerusalem that is KEPT OUT of the Leftist Mainstream News.

            People watch it overseas. You should subsribe too.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            I don’t listen to the 3 mainstream Israeli news channels ‘cos they mostly tell fake news.
            For example, they omit all the “Self-Renamed Jordanian” terrorism in Jerusalem.
            I follow the real news om Channel 20.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Aviva

      Reading about Israeli activists and local residents documenting police violence, I cannot help thinking the photo of two Palestinian men curled up in mock fear is an interupted attempt to act: When have we ever seen Palestinian young men recoil with fear, and these men do not even have the attention of the police, as another Palestinian women is hitting one of the police. I could be wrong, but I suspect women feel safe attacking Israeli soilders or police, as seen in numerous videos. Israelis correctly assume women and children are rarely a threat, and mothers everywhere will protect children: Palestinian mothers and Israeli mothers, alike. The article suggests the Israelis are putting on a show, but the photos suggest the Palestinians are also in scripted roles. It makes it difficult to understand what is occuring in Israel today, beyond an extreme shift to the right, inconcusos with the Israeli ethos we thought we knew.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Whatever you are trying to say, you are not saying it clearly, but what comes across is standard Israeli racism and condescension with a whiff of “Pallywood” slander. And an outright ignoring of the brutality these Israeli paramilitaries do mete out (read the article) and the lies the Israeli authorities tell about the basis of it (read the article).
        How do you know what those Palestinian men feel? Let met tell you, if that is “not even hav[ing] the attention of the police,” I do not ever want to have such a not having the attention of the police and I suspect you don’t either.
        With all of that and with the normalizing of the male soldiers you engage in, coupled with the fatuous “women feel safe attacking Israeli soldiers or police” (Jewish women settlers do, Arab Palestinian women do not) I read several things: An attempt to make out those invading, calculatedly brutal Israeli paramilitaries as some kind of gentlemen and scholars helping little old ladies across the street, a casually racist attempt to say Palestinian men are not like Jewish men–Palestinian men don’t feel fear, only Jewish men do (and this in the setting of massively armed and armored Jewish men and Palestinian men in tshirts and jeans)–and an attempt to trivialize, to reduce the women and men both to devious actors in “scripted” roles.
        Those paramilitaries are not “putting on a show,” nor were they invited in to that neighborhood to put on a show. (You seem to think it is the right of Israeli troops to put on shows in other people’s neighborhoods?) They are engaged in an illegal, calculated, gradual project of pushing out non-Jews from their homes, of ethnic cleansing.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Amir

      Lewis-ishaq like message

      “If those Arab settlers don’t recognize israel as the jewish homeland and jewish state, they can go to Jordan, their real home country”

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordin

        Yes, absolutely.

        Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        I would put it more accurately than Amir:

        “If those self-renamed JORDANIANS don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, they should go home.”

        Reply to Comment
    8. Eric

      And thanks to these efforts a Hamas terrorist cell was discovered planning explosive attacks and kidnappings on Israeli and Palestinian targets. Announced today.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Eric

      And thanks to these efforts a Hamas terrorist cell was discovered planning explosive attacks and kidnappings on Israeli and Palestinian targets. Announced today.

      Reply to Comment
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