Jerusalem Police Uses Excessive Force Against Palestinians, Senior Officials Accuse

Sources in the forces criticize the Jerusalem District commander's policies, saying officers seem like they're preparing for battle in East Jerusalem and warning of escalation in the city and elsewhere

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Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian man during a demonstration demanding the release of Palestinians held in Israeli detention facilities, outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday.
Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian man during a demonstration demanding the release of Palestinians held in Israeli detention facilities, outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City of JerusalCredit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Jerusalem police officers have used excessive force against Palestinians this week, police sources say, warning that tensions in the city and elsewhere could seriously escalate if the Jerusalem District, under the command of Maj. Gen. Doron Turgeman, doesn't change its policy.

Footage of clashes on Monday between officers and Palestinians near the Old City's Damascus Gate shows "loss of control," a senior police official told Haaretz.

Thousands of Palestinians gathered in the Old City to celebrate al-Israa wa al-Miraj, marking the Islamic prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. Dozens of young Palestinians confronted police at Damascus Gate, leading to 20 arrests.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 36 people were lightly wounded and that two children were hurt by a stun grenade. One of them, an 11-year-old girl, was taken to hospital. Police said the incident was being investigated by the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct.

"Shortly before Ramadan, in the midst of holiday preparations, things need to remain quiet at Damascus Gate," the senior official said. "What was achieved, with the entire world watching a disabled girl injured by a stun grenade, with photos of water cannons spraying women and children? If there isn’t an immediate change in approach, these incidents will only be a promo ahead of Ramadan."

Another senior police official said that the Supreme Court's recent decision to temporarily suspend the evictions of several Palestinian families in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah presented a dashed opportunity for calm.

“There are enough people who wish to stoke tensions in the area, but we cannot give East Jerusalem residents any reason to do so,” said this officer. “We should let them celebrate Ramadan with minimal friction, and take control of incidents as they happen, not going full-speed ahead by using measures that affect not only people throwing stones, but which indiscriminately affect bystanders.”

The sources are concerned that if police violence continues to escalate, it could spark a nationwide reaction.

Last week, the police decided against erecting barriers at Damascus Gate during the Ramadan, a lesson learned from intense clashes during last year’s Ramadan. “The narrative we wish to send is that things can be done differently,” one source said.

Preparations for operations in East Jerusalem looked more like preparations for battle, with no attempts to dialogue with local residents, numerous police sources said. “The feeling is that the Jerusalem District has not learned any lessons from last year,” one confided.

The police's next challenge will be on Thursday, faced with a demonstration organized by right-wing MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, close to the improvised office he set up in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on the Salem family's property. The demonstration will be limited to 500 participants and will be heavily guarded by police. A senior officer commented that “the recent court decisions have taken the wind out of the sails in the neighborhood, but that there is still a potential for trouble, with Ben-Gvir’s presence not exactly contributing to the peace.”

The Jerusalem police responded to the incident at Damascus Gate, saying that it had “operated in the area following violent disturbances that included the throwing of stones and bottles at police forces, which led to the injury of four policemen. During the incident, crowd dispersal methods were used. The injuring of the girl will be investigated. 20 suspects were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the disturbances and in stone and bottle throwing. The police will continue to allow freedom of worship, religion and expression to anyone, but will continue to act against any type of violence or disturbance, or against attempts to hurt policemen in violation of the law.”

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