Despite Receding Violence, East Jerusalem Restrictions Showing No Signs of Easing

Residents of Palestinian neighborhoods complain of disruptions caused by new checkpoints and roadblocks.

Olivier Fitoussi

Restrictions placed on East Jerusalem nearly two weeks ago amid a wave of terrorist attacks that spread across Israel are showing no evidence of a significant easing. Despite the relative quiet in Jerusalem, the roadblocks and checkpoints continue to cause severe disruptions in the eastern part of the city.

In fact, since the closure was imposed on the area 12 days ago, no terror attacks have taken place in Jerusalem, save for a few attempted stabbings, like the one that was thwarted on Tuesday when a police officer arrested two residents of the A-Tur neighborhood near IDF Square. The two youths, who appeared to be staking out pedestrians, were found in possession of an ax and a knife.

Police and the Jerusalem municipality link the significant drop in the number of terrorist attacks in the city and the number of terrorists coming out of its eastern neighborhoods to the new closure policy. Permanent cement barriers have been installed on most of the roads connecting East Jerusalem neighborhoods with those in the west. In every neighborhood one or two open roads remain, at which roadblocks have been installed, manned by policemen and Border Police who carry out searches and inspections of those who leave. The result is huge traffic jams in almost all the Palestinian neighborhoods.

The neighborhoods that are suffering most are Jabel Mukkaber, Issawiya and the neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier. In the neighborhoods in the center – Sheikh Jarrah, Wadi Joz and Silwan – there has been a certain easing of the closure after a number of roadblocks were removed.

Jabel Mukkaber, the source of a number of assailants who perpetrated stabbing attacks, is suffering badly from the closure.

“As of today the village is divided into four parts,” said Nahar Alisi, chairman of the parents’ committee in Jabel Mukkaber. “We have over 8,000 students who are supposed to attend the schools, most of them don’t arrive in time. There are 280 teachers who come from outside the village who are unable to come.”

The severe restrictions imposed on the neighborhood is also related to the fact that there is a small Jewish settlement in the heart of the village. One of the main roads in the village has been closed on both sides. “There are 11 schools and kindergartens there, and only one vehicle can pass at a time, the garbage truck doesn’t enter and the garbage is piling up next to the schools,” said Alisi. “It’s also a danger to life. If something happens in the schools, no ambulance will be able to enter.”

Recently the procedures have also become much more stringent at the Shoafat checkpoint, through which every morning thousands of students and workers who live in the Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the barrier cross into the city. For example, until the start of the closure the police would carry out the inspection of bus passengers on the bus itself. Now they are demanding of all the passengers to alight, pass through the pedestrian crossing and meet the bus after the crossing.

The new procedure causes a huge traffic jam that continues the length of the Shoafat refugee camp.

“They don’t skip anyone – an elderly man, a student, a pregnant woman, everyone gets off,” says Mahmoud Dabiya, a bus dispatcher at the checkpoint. “The traffic jam begins every day at 4:30 A.M. and continues until nighttime. Today one of the drivers timed two hours and five minutes waiting on line.”

In recent days body searches of Palestinians have become common throughout the city. Sometimes security forces remove passengers from their vehicles in order to search them. In addition, a wave of arrests against those suspected of being involved in violent demonstrations in East Jerusalem continues. A large percentage of the detainees are minors. Their parents claim that the police are not strict about enforcing the juvenile law that prohibits interrogating boys without the presence of their parents.

Daoud Abdel Razek of Silwan said that at 1 A.M. police came to search for his son Ahmed, 17. When they didn’t find his son at home the police forced him to knock on the neighbors’ doors in order to search for him. In the end he was brought in for questioning by his father, and there his father was not permitted to enter.

According to Attorney Fares Mustfa, who in the past month has represented about 20 Palestinian minors, the police have been prohibiting the parents from entering. The law enables the police to refrain from bringing in the parents in exceptional cases, with the approval of an officer. According to Mustafa, “In Jerusalem that’s the rule, the police don’t allow the parents to be present during interrogations.”

The Jerusalem District Police did not respond to the parents’ complaints.