Analysis

By Planting Gun for Reality TV, Israel Police Reveal Truth About East Jerusalem

Everything must be done, they say, so they do everything, whether planting a gun at a Palestinian's home or opting for collective punishment and violent action

Israeli Policemen in East Jerusalem, January, 2019.

Ads for the TV docudrama series “Jerusalem District” call it a “rare peek at the work of members of the security forces in the capital.” As the series progresses, the more it emerges that we’re getting a wider peek than the producers and the police’s PR people who helped out had in mind.

Since about a month ago, the Jerusalem police have been carrying out a daily operation in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah. Every afternoon, large police contingents enter the village, move through the alleyways and search passersby.

Roadblocks are placed at the entrances to stop vehicles; they’re examined and fines are issued. These operations create friction with the local people; in one case police shot and killed Mohammed Samir Abid after he hurled firecrackers at them. In another, a young man was hit in the back by a police stun grenade, even though he was handcuffed. In a third case, a 5-year-old was called in for questioning with his father.

Right: Samar Sleiman in his basement. Right: Screengrab from the scene in Jerusalem District
Emil Salman

>> Read more: Israel refuses to release body of Palestinian shot by police in East Jerusalem ■ Israel's collective punishing exacts price from this East Jerusalem neighborhood | Analysis ■ Let the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah be | Editorial     

The police response to residents’ complaints about collective punishment and entrapment has been the same: “The police carry out enforcement to prevent traffic violations, particularly those that endanger human life throughout the city, all for protecting the lives of the residents and changing the driving culture and norms of obeying the law.”

Viewers of the TV series discover the truth about this type of work by the police in the village. “There’s a procedure that’s beginning to be carried out – put a little pressure on the entrances and exits to give the option that someone will make a mistake,” the lead character in the series, Erez Hazan, explains in one episode. In this he reveals the true purpose of this police action: collective punishment and entrapment.

The incident in which a rifle was planted in the home of Samer Sleiman and similar cases pointed out by East Jerusalem residents, albeit not as serious, show that this TV series should be viewed as the lens of reality that will reveal the truth behind the staged drama.

The finding of an M16 rifle in the home of an Isawiyah resident suspected of terrorism is fake news. The truth is that the police planted a weapon in the home of a man to improve the police's image – and the man's son, at the age of 10, lost his sight due to a previous encounter with the police.

The police spokesman’s claim that the police enforce the law equally throughout the city is fake news. The truth is that the police carry out collective punishment and intentional provocation in an East Jerusalem neighborhood. That the police feel sorry for a Palestinian family evicted from their home is fake news. The truth is that the police do everything they can to help the settlers’ organizations in East Jerusalem.

Since the news came out Tuesday on the planting of the rifle, more evidence is accumulating about the series’ ethics breaches that must be looked into. A journalist with the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat, Chaim Goldberg, revealed that in one episode showing the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox suspect, a voiceover was added saying “get out of here, Nazis” to ratchet up the drama. In another instance, a Palestinian detainee whose arrest as an allegedly dangerous activist was documented, but he was released the next day and wasn’t questioned again.

Samer Sleiman presenting the police search report in his Isawiyah home, August 5, 2019.
Emil Salman

A critical look at the series will show a deep truth – not about Jerusalem and its people, but about the real approach of the Jerusalem police, as an organization and as individuals, to the city’s various population groups.

This is mainly the case regarding Palestinians. To the police, the Palestinians are one of two things: Either they’re inexplicably violent and involved in terror, in clashes between clans or in drug dealing, or they’re collaborators with fraudulent motives. Their neighborhoods are clusters of poverty, crime and violence. This idea repeats over and over in the filming and in the police's statements, especially regarding Isawiyah and the Shoafat refugee camp.

“At every entrance to Isawiyah you have to be ready for anything. Isawiyah is a village that no matter where you touch, you’ll find something,” Hazan says in one episode. “Isawiyah is a village unlike any other in Jerusalem.”Ovadia, another character, adds: “There’s a fire burning, there’s a furnace that doesn’t go out.”

The really serious thing is the feeling that the police have started to believe the image they invented for drama and ratings. After all, if Isawiyah is a dangerous terror village, “a furnace that doesn’t go out,” everything must be done to put out the fire in the furnace, including collective punishment and violent action.

Suddenly the endless enforcement operation in Isawiyah appears in a new and better light. From that point of view, “Jerusalem District” tells the truth about Jerusalem.