Residents of East Jerusalem say the police are using crowd-dispersal methods indiscriminately as a way to mete out collective punishment against apartment dwellers, car owners and olive growers.
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The police, for their part, have noted the recent violence in these neighborhoods as a response to actions by Israeli forces, but have not commented on the allegations of collective punishment.
On the main street of the Isawiya neighborhood, for example, many apartment windows have been smashed; residents say police fired sponge-tipped bullets or gas canisters at the buildings. A local barber says police fired into his shop four times; he has concealed the damage with a large rug.
Nearby, members of the Jamjum family say their home was set alight when three gas canisters were fired at it. A pregnant woman, two girls and the bedridden elderly head of the family were home at the time, Assam Jamjum says.
“We were sitting at home and all of a sudden the house was filled with smoke and gas,” he said. “First I got the children out, then I went back to take out my father, who almost died.” The father and the pregnant woman were hospitalized for observation and later released.
“How do they throw gas like that without knowing what’s inside?” added Assam’s brother Basal. Many things in the home were burned. Residents also say the police use their batons to smash car windows.
Adal Siam, a resident of the Silwan neighborhood, says his house was attacked by 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 to punish residents.
“We were sleeping. It was a quarter to 12 at night and the machine stood in front of our house and deliberately fired at our windows. The windows break from the pressure and the whole house gets filled with it,” Siam said.
“For the first time ever I vomited for 20 minutes, even though I had nothing in my stomach. We’ve washed everything down three times but the smell doesn’t go away. My poor wife, children and mother can’t breathe.”
Skunk trucks are also used to destroy olive groves, residents say.
In Isawiya, the police have closed the two main entrances that lead to central Jerusalem; now the only access is the road to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.
“This makes no sense,” said Darwish Darwish, Isawiya’s village leader. “They’re just heating things up. Instead of calming things down, they’re lighting fires.”
Over the past two days, Jerusalem police set up checkpoints in the Beit Hanina and Silwan neighborhoods in cooperation with the traffic police, to stop drivers and write tickets, often for minor infractions. This too is a form of collective punishment, residents say.
In a statement, the police pointed to the recent violence in East Jerusalem.
“In the neighborhoods of Isawiya and Silwan, many youths have been rioting and disturbing the peace for a long time. 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 police said.
“This is the time for the leaders to show leadership and for the adult residents to show responsibility and maturity and prevent the rioters from disturbing the peace and undermining the routine of all neighborhood residents.”