After the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014 led to intensifying clashes in East Jerusalem, Israeli prosecutors began cracking down on young Palestinians caught throwing stones, seeking detention until the end of legal proceedings and tougher punishment. Teenagers were often sentenced to two years in prison for throwing stones even if they caused no damage. As a result of this policy, hundreds of young East Jerusalem Palestinians have spent lengthy periods in jail.
One of these youths was Mohammed Samir Abid, who was 15 in 2015 when he was arrested for the first time. As with others in his situation, imprisonment changed the course of his life and he never rebounded. Shortly after his release, he was arrested again, and jailed for another two-year term which ended a year ago.
Last Thursday Abid was standing near a stone wall, not far from his home, while residents of his neighborhood, Isawiyah, and left-wing activists demonstrated against recent Israel Police raids in the area. Based on photos and testimony from residents, a group of policemen stood about 10 meters from Abid, speaking to the protesters in an effort to calm things down.
According to police, Abid threw lit firecrackers at them. Firecrackers have become common weapons among Jerusalem’s Palestinian teenagers; they make a loud noise and can fly a short distance, but rarely hurt anybody and certainly don’t cause serious injuries. Palestinians were standing next to the policemen allegedly targeted by Abid.
One police officer noticed what Abid was doing and shot him. According to some testimony, the policeman fired three shots; others recall only one. In any case, a bullet hit Abid in the chest and he died a short time later.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have for years claimed that the harsh punishments and the lengthy incarcerations have thrown the lives of many teens off-course, pushing them to acts of violence and endless confrontations with the police.
“I told the judge, ‘Is this a place for a child?’” said Isawiyah resident Mohammed Attiya, a visitor in the mourning tent set up by Abid's family, whose own son was incarcerated for 18 months. “I told her, ‘You will make him either Ahmed Yassin or Marwan Barghouti’" – a reference to, respectively, the late founder of Hamas and the jailed Fatah activist.
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Added Attiya, "I said, 'Since my son came out it’s hard for me to raise him. You don't understand that you’re making them like that.'”
The approach the police are using in Isawiyah recently has been reminiscent of that of the prosecution in 2014. True to the Israeli saying that when force doesn’t work at first, use more of it – the police announced three weeks ago that they were ratcheting up enforcement against the locals. Sources say that one officer told them the operation would continue “until not a single stone is thrown.”
The operation has included an influx of dozens of policemen; the erection of roadblocks; vehicles being systematically stopped when leaving the neighborhood; and the issuance of tickets for almost any reason. One person said he was ticketed for not removing the plastic wrapping on the seats of his new vehicle; another for having darkened windows in his car; a third was told his license plate wasn't readable. Some residents said the officers who stopped them offered them a deal: a lower fine in return for information about what was going on in the area.
These measures have disrupted life in Isawiyah in an extreme manner. Most shop owners close their businesses in the afternoon, many residents have chosen to shut themselves up in their homes and confrontations with the young stone-throwers have become worse.
When a source at the Jerusalem district police was asked about its policy, he seemingly feigned innocence, saying, “Any attempt to present legitimate enforcement that prevents road accidents and protects the lives of the residents in a different light is invalid and does a disservice to the truth.”
But anyone who understands anything about police conduct knows that this is no innocent operation but rather collective punishment aimed at forcing the residents of Isawiyah to stop throwing stones at the police
Oshrat Maimon, policy advocacy director of the Ir Amim co-existence NGO, wrote the police commissioner that Isawiyah is a neighborhood of 20,000 residents and even if officers find individuals who are disturbing the peace, they must deal separately with every case – not hand down collective punishments. The pressure the police force is using is not only illegal, she added, it is making matters worse.
Meanwhile, the police have continued to object to releasing Abid’s body for burial and hundreds of officers have since descended on Isawiyah again to make arrests.
“We've tried to talk with the police nicely, begging them to stop frightening people,” says Adnan Abid, a relative of Mohammed's. “My son, a year and a half old, was standing on the balcony and saw the shooting. He hasn’t left his mother’s side since and cries constantly at night.”