Netanyahu office
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his government office. Photo by Lior Mizrahi
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Despite warnings from security authorities and Housing Minister Ariel Atias that the use of private security guards in settler compounds in East Jerusalem could have fatal consequences, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has avoided holding discussions on the matter.

Six moths prior to the fatal shooting of a Silwan resident by a privately employed security guard, which stirred demonstrations in East Jerusalem, the officer charged with security at the Housing Ministry, Yitzhak Lehrer, wrote to Atias that "it is my duty to once more warn that the unit of private guards is not prepared for dealing with wide-scale disturbances which include weapons and fire bombs. There are gaps which may result in the breakdown of the system and to the endangering of human lives in the immediate future."

In the letter, a copy of which was relayed by Atias to Netanyahu, Lehrer "wishes, before it is too late, to warn: we must not ignore the seriousness of the incidents; human lives are at risk in a complicated and sensitive setting. Action must be taken before we wake up too late, after a resident or a security guard pay with their lives, or small-scale incidents slip into general rioting, where the extent of the damage will be severe."

Following the demonstrations that broke out following the killing of Silwan resident Samir Sarhan, 32, by a security guard of the Housing Ministry in September, MK Haim Oron (Meretz ) asked Atias to deal with the issue.

"In view of the urgency and sensitivity of the issue, I asked the prime minister to head an emergency meeting in order to evaluate the format for security in East Jerusalem," Atias wrote to Oron.

The housing minister says that since March 2010, some 15 security guards were removed from their position because they were found to be unsuitable to work in the unit. He said that in May alone there were 246 incidents registered by the security guards in their log book, including three in which they had to use firearms because they considered their lives to be in danger.

Atias wrote to Netanyahu that "the writing is spread on the wall and I can do little else but bring it before you over and over."

Ofer Rosenman, who heads Ilit Security, the company which trains the guards for the Housing Ministry, told Haaretz that following the incident "in Silwan there is a vacuum of governance," and claimed that his request for riot dispersal equipment was turned down.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel asked Atias, after the September incident, to transfer security authority in the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Israel Police. A similar recommendation had been made in 2006, by a public committee headed by Major General (res. ) Uri Orr, which the government accepted, but in January 2007 the Olmert government went back on its decision.

In 2010, the Housing Ministry has NIS 54 million in its budget earmarked for private security guards in East Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister's Bureau had no response to this report.