Israeli police arrested two Palestinian activists in Jerusalem early on Wednesday who had holed themselves up at the Red Cross compound in the city. Three weeks ago, the head of the Israel Defense Force Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, issued a restraining order barring the two from Jerusalem, but they refused to comply and instead moved to the premises of the Red Cross in the hope that they would not be arrested there.
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Palestinian sources said the Israel Police entered the Red Cross compound to arrest the two, who were then questioned. The police sought to release them on condition that they leave Jerusalem, but they have refused.
The pair, Samer Abu Aisha and Hijazi Abu Sabih, both residents of Jerusalem’s Old City, are not identified with a political party but are social activists who are well-known among young Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The two were behind a number of original protests in the east of the city, including a gathering of young people who drank coffee at the Old City’s Damascus Gate in protest of the erection of security barricades there, and an event featuring singing marchers demanding that Israel release the bodies of Palestinian terrorists. Their unorthodox approach is reflected in the fact that in the past Abu Sabih was arrested dressed as a tiger and as Mickey Mouse.
Three weeks ago, five Jerusalem Palestinian social and political activists were served orders, pursuant to emergency British Mandatory regulations still in effect since 1945, requiring them to leave the city for six months. The notice delivered to the five included a map of greater Jerusalem delineating the area that was off-limits to them. They are permitted to be in any of the territory of the Palestinian Authority and because they are permanent residents of Israel, they are also allowed anywhere in Israel outside the Jerusalem area.
Three of the five complied with the order, but the remaining two, Abu Sabih and Abu Aisha, issued a statement saying that “submission” to the order would be “a defeat for Jerusalemites and Palestinians in general.” They took up residence in a tent in the yard of the Red Cross compound. In the evenings, a large number of people gathered there for cultural programming and protests against the Israeli occupation.
“It was a social place. People came and sang and gave lectures, in a kind of popular protest that was an alternatives to stabbings,” said Alaa Mahajna, a lawyer who provided legal assistance to the two, refering to the wave of Palestinian stabbings of Israelis over the past several months.
On Tuesday, after a number of warnings from the police and the Shin Bet security service, police were sent to the compound and arrested seven people including Abu Aisha and Abu Sabih. The other five were released, but Abu Aisha and Abu Sabih are refusing to sign a commitment to leave the city.
For its part, the Jerusalem police issued a statement saying that the pair had blatantly violated the order issued against them and instead holed themselves up in the Red Cross compound. “As a result, they have been arrested and transferred for questioning.”