Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has instructed the heads of municipal departments to strictly enforce municipal regulations and apply penalties against residents of East Jerusalem. The order covers traffic citations, house demolitions, unlicensed businesses and even animal confiscations.
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The mayor’s directive was issued at a meeting on Tuesday between the municipality director general and department heads. A senior police official was also in attendance.
The goal of the new policy is to compel the Palestinian public to act against Palestinian youth who have been clashing virtually daily with police in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Senior officials at the meeting expressed opposition to the policy, saying it would burn bridges with the Palestinian public in the city.
Palestinians in Jerusalem say the police are using riot control arbitrarily as a means of collective punishment. Along the main street in the neighborhood of Isawiyah most of the houses have broken windows. According to residents, the cause was sponge bullets or gas canisters fired at the windows by police.
Not far from there, the home of the Jamjum family was burned after three tear gas canisters were fired at it. A woman in advanced pregnancy, two girls and the family’s elderly, bed-ridden father were in the house at the time.
Adal Siam, a resident of the Silwan neighborhood, says his house was the target of a so-called “skunk truck” that sprays a foul-smelling liquid. According to East Jerusalemites, police use skunk trucks not just to disperse rioters but also to punish residents.
Residents say the police are using clubs to break car windows and are destroying olive groves by spraying them with skunk trucks. The police have also closed the two main entrances to Isawiyah from the direction of Jerusalem, leaving only the one from Ma’aleh Adumim open. “This makes no sense. They’re just heating things up instead of calming things down,” said Isawiyah’s mukhtar Darwish Darwish.
Police checkpoints have been placed at the entrances to Palestinian neighborhoods to cite drivers for various violations, sometimes minor, which residents say is also a form of collective punishment.
“There is no doubt that the law must be enforced, but the question is why do thousands of police officers have to be brought in to conduct mass arrests after years during which the police refused to enter the neighborhoods to protect the residents,” said city councilwoman Laura Wharton.
The Jerusalem police cite continued violence in Isawiyah and Silwan as the reason for their actions. “The rioters throw stones, they throw fireworks directly at policemen and they throw firebombs. The Jerusalem police and Border Police confront the rioters with all the means at their disposal, including the skunk truck. This tool is used everywhere stones, firebombs or fireworks are thrown at forces.”
The Jerusalem municipality responded that it has long had difficulty enforcing the law in some East Jerusalem neighborhoods due to the lack of police personnel to accompany city inspectors. “The new deployment of the police in the Arab neighborhoods makes it possible for the city to enforce the law against violatorswith the purpose of bringing the rule of law to all the neighborhoods,” the municipality said.