When Israeli forces started body searching Palestinians outside Jerusalem’s Old City, an Activestills photographer on the scene started filming. They detained and searched him too.
Text and photography: Faiz Abu Rmeleh / Film editing: Keren Manor
Faiz Abu Rmeleh, an Activestills photographer and resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, was detained by on Thursday outside Damascus Gate, after he filmed Border Police officers carrying out a body search on a Palestinian man.
The police officers tried to prevent Rmeleh from filming, then asked him to identify himself and undergo a body search as well. When he refused, he was forcefully taken to a nearby police post, aggressively pressed up against a wall and struck by the officers. Below, Rmeleh recounts the incident in his own words.
“Yesterday [Thursday], at 4.30 p.m. I was sitting on the steps outside Damascus Gate with friends. We suddenly heard police officers shouting and saw them grab a guy, who we realized was from the [occupied] territories. The police were hitting him and shouting, and started carrying out a body search in the street.
“I started to film on my phone. Two police officers came over and stood in front of me so I wouldn’t be able to see what they were doing to the Palestinian guy. I told them that if they were blocking my view it meant they were doing something illegal that they wanted to hide. When they’d finished with the guy and allowed him to go, the same police officers came over to me with back-up, asked me for my identity card and said I had to accompany them to undergo a body search as well.
“I refused, and said they could either search me where I was or take me to the police station if I’d done something illegal.
“The officers started arguing with me and forcefully took me to a police stand next to Damascus Gate, where they began frisking and hitting me. They pushed me up against the wall and moved my hands and legs apart by force. After they let me go, I went to take my identity card from the officer at the police stand, and told him that the behavior of his officers was not acceptable — that it humiliates and angers people.
“As we were talking I heard a child crying, and saw that the soldiers were trying to take a man with a boy in his arms for a search. I started filming again. They stopped another three people and searched them violently. The police arrested one of the guys, and continued behaving aggressively towards the other people standing in the street.
“More police forces, including some on horseback, arrived at Damascus Gate to disperse everyone. When I went back to the police stand to take the details of the Border Police officers, because none of them had been wearing their name tags, another officer there acted contemptuously toward me and even threatened to arrest me.”
Tamara Za’atari, who filmed the officers as they were detaining Rmeleh, describes what she saw:
“The way in which the police were trying to provoke people made me feel that I had to film what was happening. They were aggressively searching youths for no reason. They approached Faiz solely because he was filming them; they were rude to him and detained him. Afterwards they continued stopping people in the street and searching them without cause. There was nothing to justify the police officers’ actions, everything had been calm.
“What irritated me most is how they behaved toward a father who had his little child in his arms. The kid was so scared and crying… And also how they dispersed us all and wouldn’t let us sit by Damascus Gate. It made me feel bad. It had been quiet and calm, we were sitting and enjoying ourselves, and in an instant the police turned it into a battleground, a military zone. They came with their guns and horses and scattered everyone.
“Random checks, aggressive and public body searches and disrespectful behavior from the police are a regular feature of life for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and beyond, and a daily occurrence at Damascus Gate. That the officers are lording it over Palestinians can be seen clearly in the video. Every attempt by a Palestinian to assume his rights was met with violence by the Israeli forces. Why? Because that’s what they’ve decided, and because they can do whatever they like.
“Or, as one of the youngsters in the film says to the officers: ‘You’re a soldier, not the mafia, right? But I see you as the mafia.’”
In response to a request for comment on the incident, the Israel Police said that it occurred as police officers were on a security assignment, and claimed that “several youths started to cause disruption and interfered with and provoked the officers carrying out their work.” The police spokesperson further said that one youth had indeed been detained at Damascus Gate at that time and taken to the police station; however, they could not explain why an Activestills photographer had also been detained, and claimed that they weren’t familiar with his details.
The police spokesperson added that “the police officers did not use force during the incident except for in moving people away from the area.”
A version of this article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.