The police closed dozens of business in East Jerusalem on Monday after two police officers were wounded in a stabbing attack outside the Old City. After the attack, for hours, police barred all of the stores in the Palestinian central business district from opening.
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Merchants who opened for business despite the closure order were fined. "The policeman told me: 'a policewoman has been stabbed. We’re closing the whole country,'" said one business owner at Damascus Gate.
Stores were closed along Saladin Street, Sultan Suleiman Street and in the commercial center along Hanevi’im Street near Damascus Gate as well as inside the Old City. Later many business owners decided to open, but some remained closed. Operations were also disrupted at the East Jerusalem central bus station near the Damascus Gate.
This was not the first time police employed collective punishment against Arab shop owners following attacks in Jerusalem, but in previous instances this was limited to fines and no shops were closed.
Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevy told Channel 2 that the shops were closed in order to "upgrade our capabilities in the area," but also appeared to justify the collective punishment, saying that civilians in East Jerusalem were "complicit in everything that happens."
"It's impossible that there's an incident like this and that life will go on as if nothing happened," he said.
Jerusalem Police said in a statement that the decision to shut down the shops was based on operational and professional reasons.
The Jerusalem Municipality denied the report, saying that police activity was grounded in security needs, and that enforcement of city codes had no relation to Monday's attack.
Security, or revenge?
The East Jerusalem merchants claimed that anyone who opened for business was threatened with being closed and those who tried to argue about the decision received a citation from a municipal inspector who accompanied the police officers. The inspector also looked for other violations over which the merchants could be fined, the business owners said.
An employee at a bakery in an area where the business closures were ordered described the scene as follows: "There were two people in the store and I said that I was just about to close. [One of them] said: 'That's it, you’ve been ticketed.' He called to the inspector who looked to see on what basis [a fine could be levied], and finally issued it for chairs that were outside and that were not even ours. The policeman told the inspector to also take a picture of the car near the store, because he thought it was ours.”
The owners of the bakery closed and reopened several hours later.
Restaurant owner Iyad Alayubi, who is the chairman of the merchants’ association for the area around the Damascus Gate, received a 475-shekel ($127) citation for "placing refrigerators in a public location without written permission from the municipality." He said the refrigerators had been at their current location for many years, and he had never been fined over them.
"I saw that they were writing a ticket for placing items outside. I asked them: 'Why just now? It's here every day. The policeman told me: 'I'm detaining you.' I told him: 'It's not a security issue. You are taking revenge.' They came to the restaurant and told me to close. I responded that I wouldn't close until they showed me an order. The officer took my I.D., gave it to the inspector, and he started to write," Alaybui said.
"What is happening is that every policeman is taking the law into his own hands," the restaurant owner added. "Another one came and told [me] to put the chairs inside or a truck would come and confiscate them. I showed him the license. Then he said: “Okay, but next year you won’t get a license.’ A third officer came and said he was ordering that the grapevines that had been growing here since the Jordanian times had to be cut down. They don’t have to pressure us too much. The fact that they are applying pressure makes people do things that are not good.”
In Monday morning's attack, a Palestinian assailant jumped two police officers from behind and stabbed them several times near the Old City's Herod's Gate. One of the two was a 38-year-old policewoman, who was in very serious condition following the stabbing. The other was a 45-year-old policeman in moderate condition. The attacker, Ayman Kurd, 20, from the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, was shot by the policeman and was in serious condition.