Provoking Jerusalem's Palestinians 'For Nothing': Cop's Recording Sheds Light on 'Screwed Up' Policy

Israeli officers heard in a body camera video complaining about disputed operation in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah, aimed at 'causing more problems'

Police officers patrolling the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah, August 2017.
Emil Salman

Israeli police officers in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Isawiyah were caught on camera complaining that there was no purpose to an ongoing police operation in the neighborhood, highly criticized by community leaders, other than deliberately provoking the residents.

The video footage, which was seen by an Israeli court during a hearing on charges pressed against a resident for throwing stones, shows one policeman telling his colleague: “It’s really provoking them for nothing. Why do this on purpose?”

During the entire course of the summer, the Jerusalem District Police carried out daily wide-scale raids in Isawiyah, entering the East Jerusalem neighborhood in the afternoon on patrol, setting up roadblocks and stopping motorists and passersby for inspection and then going back in at night to arrest residents.

More than 350 residents of Isawiyah have been arrested, including 11 in the early morning on Sunday, but charges were pressed only against about ten of them. Residents have claimed that the raids have been aimed at provoking them and that the police are seeking to spark violence. The residents also claim that there has been no stone throwing in the neighborhood before or during the raids other than at police forces that have entered Isawiyah.

Summer-long police sweep strikes fear in IsawiyahHaaretz

Such claims were also expressed in the video footage that was obtained by Haaretz and filmed in April, a few weeks before the police stepped up their enforcement activity in the neighborhood. It was filmed on a body camera worn by one of the policemen patrolling at the time. The video was taken on the neighborhood’s main street, in the vicinity of the main mosque in Isawiyah. 

The police officers whose comments were caught on video stood near the mosque for several hours. Repeatedly one or another of the officers is seen raising his weapon as if purportedly aiming it a residents seen in the background. A large number of pedestrians and vehicles passed the policemen but none approached them.

The police officers are heard talking among themselves about the purpose of police operations in Isawiyah. One of them remarked: “This is really provoking them for nothing.” The second police officer is heard agreeing. Later the first policemen said: “Why do this on purpose?” The second one replied: “Our policy is screwed up from the outset.” The first policeman then comments: “Let then live. You’re provoking them here for nothing.”

Several minutes later the first policeman addressed a third: “I have a question for you. Isn’t what we’re doing here causing more problems?” The third policeman replied: “That’s the goal,” to which the first asked: “Causing more problems?” The second policeman then replied in the affirmative.

Later two of the officers are heard discounting the danger posed by stones thrown in the neighborhood. One is heard saying it is not a terrorist attack. “It’s just stones,” he said. “It’s a game for them. They’re not throwing them to cause harm.”

The video was presented during a hearing held at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court last week of Isawiyah resident Abdallah Mustafa, who was charged with throwing three stones at police officers on the day the video was filmed. Mustafa’s lawyer from the public defender’s office, Ahmed Awawdeh, claimed that the punishment to be imposed in the case should be reduced, in the interest of justice, due to the police officers’ comments heard in the video.

The remarks, Awawdeh noted, were made by the police themselves rather than Isawiyah residents or representatives from the B’Tselem Israeli human rights group or, as he noted, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy “or anyone else.” They were members of the border police, he said.

Palestinians arrested during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah, June 28, 2019.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

“We see that there is no operational need here and that the police are entering the neighborhood for the purpose of harassing neighborhood residents, acts that terrify children,"Awawdeh said.

“How can someone stand facing children and pointing a weapon at their body? In a country ruled by law, this deliberate disruption of their lives has to be stopped. How can this be stopped? Through court rulings, through fearless statements by the court,” the defendant’s lawyer said.

The police have roundly rejected the claim that their operations have been carried out for purposes of harassment. The real aim is “preserving public order and enforcing the law at all times and in every location,” they said.

The prosecutor in Mustafa’s case, Doreen Haim, told the court that police officers seen in the video had misspoken: “There are no grounds for taking one momentary statement of a witness who later recanted. Just as the thoughts of defendants are not punished, the same is true regarding policemen who had a slip of the tongue.”

Magistrate’s Court Judge Yaron Mientkavich accepted the defendant’s position in part and said he would take the video into consideration while sentencing the defendant. Mustafa was sentenced to seven and a half months in prison, which is considered relatively lenient in such a case, considering the fact he had previously been convicted of similar offenses.

Residents of Isawiyah have been claiming for months that the purpose of the police operations in the neighborhood is to harass the residents and disrupt their lives as collective punishment and to apply pressure on them. Over a period of years, testimony has accumulated suggesting that the police in Jerusalem have acted to increase friction with residents of the neighborhood.

In Kan public television’s reality series “Jerusalem District,” one officer, Erez Hazan, who was in a scene in which a weapon was planted in the home of an Isawiyah neighborhood, is seen saying: “There’s a procedure that is beginning to be carried out. They’re beginning to apply a bit of pressure in entering and leaving [the neighborhood] to provide the option that someone would make some kind of mistake.”

After Haaretz reported that the gun had been planted at the home of Samar Sleiman, the Kan public broadcaster cancelled the series and all of the episodes of the series were removed from its website.

In 2017, the police brought a busload of police to the neighborhood dressed as soldiers to provoke stone throwing and then to catch the perpetrators. A juvenile defendant caught in the operation was sentenced to 19 months in detention.