Israeli Police Continue Operating in Flash Point East Jerusalem Neighborhood Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Isawiyah residents describe officers without protective gear making arrests without following government orders on maintaining distance

Police officers in Isawiyah in the summer of 2020.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Police are still carrying out operations in East Jerusalem’s Isawiyah neighborhood, despite the fact that its activities put it in violation of the Israeli government’s orders to contain the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. Residents say that arrests are conducted with no protective gear and police officers do not abide by the social-distancing orders and stay close to one another.

On Wednesday and Thursday nights, violent clashes erupted between local residents and police forces. Young residents threw firecrackers and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with riot control measures and arrests. According to residents, on Wednesday police officers entered the neighborhood to secure an ambulance carrying people who had returned from abroad and were being taken for coronavirus testing. In another incident, officers went into the neighborhood to apprehend a young man suspected of performing sanitation work on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem, which police do not allow.

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“No one touched them, no one said anything,” prominent local activist Mohammed Abu Hummus told Haaretz. “After several hours the police officers returned and started going around the neighborhood. They detained two kids who were just standing there.” According to Abu Hummus, “there were no rocks thrown or anything, but then a mess started.”

According to Abu Hummus, police officers are not following restrictions in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak. “They travel with seven or eight people in the same car and stand close together, maybe even 15 (officers) in a square meter, as if there’s no emergency.” Video footage taken by Isawiyah residents shows the violent arrest of one of the residents, with several officers tackling him and apprehending him with no protective gear.

Attorney Oshrat Maimon of Ir Amim, an NGO promoting Jewish-Arab equality in Jerusalem, wrote on Thursday in “an urgent appeal” to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon that it is “astonishing that even in these days, which require unique conduct to contain the coronavirus, the police’s aggressive activities in the neighborhood go on as usual.” She says police operations are causing traffic jams, gatherings of passers-by and delays, and involve arrests and searches, all in violation of the Health Ministry orders.

The Israel Police said it “operates throughout Jerusalem to ensure public safety and security… including in the village of Iswaiyah, which for years has been a focal point of riots.” The police added in a statement that its operations, “which are conducted specifically against rioters, have led to a sharp decline in crimes threatening the lives of civilians and officers.”

“Alongside this activity, these days Israel Police is also working to enforce the Health Ministry’s decrees… in order to prevent gatherings and the opening of businesses ordered to shut down, with the aim of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Israel,” it added.