Inspectors Crack Down on Jerusalem Neighborhood Where Truck-ramming Assailant Lived

Municipality dismisses claim of collective punishment, but local residents complain of increased police and city employees' action.

Security forces walk through Jabal Mukkaber in East Jerusalem, January 9, 2017.
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem municipality is conducting an extensive enforcement campaign in Jabal Mukkaber, the East Jerusalem neighborhood that was home to Fadi al-Qanbar, the Palestinian who rammed his truck into a group of soldiers in the capital on Sunday. Qanbar killed four soldiers and injured 13 others before being shot and killed.

Over the past two days, teams of city employees have swept the neighborhood, and in particular the section where the assailant lived, handing out warnings of upcoming demolitions of illegally built houses and checking for unpaid property tax bills and other municipal fees.

The city said the enforcement efforts were intended “to deal with serious and conspicuous building violations, in violation of the law and safety regulations, which seriously harm the public space and neighborhood.”

The police have also clamped down in the neighborhood. One of the streets near the adjacent Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv was blocked off to traffic, and police checkpoints were set up at the exits. 

Jabal Mukkaber residents view the steps as collective punishment; some said the police had asked them not to speak with the media.

They complained that the police at the checkpoints are conducting strict checks on vehicles in particular, and especially trucks. They have been giving out tickets, and have even ordered vehicles taken off the road for what the residents say are minor problems. As a result, heavy traffic jams formed at the exits from Jabal Mukkaber all day long.

The city dismissed the claim of collective punishment. “Mapping the illegal construction and enforcing the law to the benefit of most of the residents, in order to allow the construction of educational institutions, development of open areas and building roads for residents is not collective punishment,” the city responded.

However, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has been a vocal supporter of collective punishment for neighborhoods where assailants live. At a meeting with Likud activists in September, he boasted about punishing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are suspected of terror acts or riots or their relatives, by using the municipality’s enforcement mechanisms against them.

“Suddenly the evil residents understand that the public system knows how to work together,” he said, referring to cooperation between the municipality, police and Shin Bet security service in imposing sanctions against the relatives and neighbors of assailants.

A hearing scheduled Wednesday concerning the revocation of the Israeli residency permits of 12 of Qanbar’s relatives was postponed until next Wednesday. These family members are in the process of receiving residency permits, based on family reunification after having married residents of Jerusalem.

The relatives received letters on Tuesday from the Population and Immigration Authority, saying the decision had been made due to the attack and that the family is “suspected of having connections to ISIS” and are a security risk “as long as they remain in Israel.”

Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, which is representing the relatives, said the information it received in the summons contradicts the reason cited by Interior Minister Arye Dery for revoking the permits, namely, deterrence.