Israeli Police Bully East Jerusalem Neighborhood Over Clashes With Youth, Palestinians Say

Residents of Isawiyah say police told them several times that the recent crackdown was punishment for neighborhood’s alleged role in clashes between young men and law enforcement

An Israeli Police officer in Issawiyah, East Jerusalem, July 4, 2019.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem police are continuing what residents call unprecedented enforcement against traffic violations in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah.

For the past three weeks the police have set up roadblocks at the entrance to the neighborhood and are stopping almost every car on its way out, examining vehicles closely and writing up drivers for almost every infraction, local people say, adding that this approach continued over the weekend.

The police did not respond to a query from Haaretz on whether such operations were taking place in non-Palestinian neighborhoods, and on how many citations were handed out to Isawiyah residents since the operation began.

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Local people say the police have told them several times that the operation was punishment for the neighborhood’s alleged role in clashes between young men and the police, and stone-throwing.

The operation, which has involved large police contingents entering the area, has increased friction between the police and young men in the neighborhood. In late June, one clash ended with the shooting death of Mohammed Abid, 20, by a police officer. The officer said he felt his life was in danger because Abid had shot firecrackers at him.

The number of fines handed out in Isawiyah recently show particularly strict enforcement, including for infractions such as a bent license plate or handbrake, a noisy motorcycle motor and a motorcyclist carrying cardboard boxes. Each fine is in the hundreds of shekels, and in some cases the car is taken off the road.

Masked Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces in Isawiya, East Jerusalem, June 28, 2019.
AFP

Residents say that in some cases the police have offered to reduce a fine if the driver would provide information about stone-throwers from the neighborhood.

“They check everybody leaving like it’s an annual car inspection,” said left-wing activist Yigal Bronner, who has taken part in a solidarity demonstration in Isawiyah.

Bronner says that in one case, when he went to take a picture of the citation, a policeman said photographing the citation was against the law because it was a “police document” and he was obstructing an officer carrying out his duties.

As Omar Atiya, an Isawiyah activist, put it, “There has never been anything like this since 1967, not even during the first intifada. I think they’re trying to force all the renters in Isawyiah to leave and that way to hurt Isawiyah.”

Residents say their daily lives have been disrupted. For example, many local people are afraid to drive their cars, and many shops are shuttered both for fear of raids and because there are hardly any people on the street.

“I have to get to a wedding today, and I gave up on bringing my two daughters and my little boy, because they’ll check the car seat and say it’s not what’s needed,” Atiya said. “Besides, you go out with a 1-year-old and you don’t know how long they’ll delay you.”

Activist Mohammed Abu Humus added: “The officer said that if one stone is thrown he’ll send in one group [of riot-control police], and if two stones, two groups.”

Meanwhile, the police are to pay Abu Humus, one of the most prominent political activists in Isawiyah, 4,000 shekels ($1,120) in compensation for false arrest.

Every year he organizes a small, legal protest at the Jerusalem Marathon, and he is arrested almost every year. This year he was arrested by traffic police who took his car keys the day before the marathon, citing security problems.

Also, on the morning of the marathon, he was arrested even before the race began. He was brought to a police station and told he would be questioned shortly. Three hours later he was questioned briefly and released as the marathon ended.

According to the police, “The suspect was detained for questioning because he was summoned and did not appear, as part of the police’s job to prevent a disturbance of the peace.”

Last week, after Abu Humus filed a false-arrest complaint through attorney Eitay Mack, the state agreed to pay him the 4,000 shekels. Three years ago, the police paid him 5,000 shekels in compensation after a false-arrest complaint.

The police added: “The Israel Police conduct enforcement operations to prevent traffic violations that endanger life throughout the city, and in so doing focus on places where there are many violations, along with explanatory action, all with the purpose of protecting the residents’ lives and changing the driving culture and norms of obedience to the law.

“Any attempt to present in another light legitimate enforcement that prevents accidents and protects the lives of the residents is baseless and untrue.”