On the day nearly two weeks ago when a 16-year-old East Jerusalem girl was seriously wounded by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by an Israeli police officer, at least three other East Jerusalem residents were injured by stun grenades or sponge-tipped rounds. None of them was suspected of violence or arrested.
According to numerous eyewitnesses, whose statements are corroborated by video of the incidents, police used harsh measures against residents without provocation. One man required surgery on his testicles.
Late last week, the Justice Ministry unit that investigates allegations of police misconduct questioned the two officers involved in the incident in which Jana Kiswani, 16, was shot. Five other officers have been questioned on suspicion of obstructing justice.
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The officer who allegedly shot Kiswani, whose name is under a gag order, says his gun discharged accidentally. According to witnesses and videos, however, the police officers in Sheikh Jarrah that day were overly free in using their firearms.
The incidents occurred on Tuesday, May 18, the day of a general strike by Israel’s Arab community, including in East Jerusalem. Large contingents of police were deployed to Sheikh Jarrah in preparation for a planned demonstration by Palestinians.
The protest, which began at 4 P.M., drew several dozen demonstrators who shouted nationalist slogans. In response, dozens of police officers began forcibly dispersing them.
A press release from the police that evening did not accuse the protesters of any kind of violence. “In response to a protest that began in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, in which hundreds of demonstrators participated and expressed support for terrorists, the police and the Border Police are working to disperse the demonstrators using [crowd control] means,” the statement said.
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“The Israel Police will not allow any disturbances of the peace, violence or harm to the public’s safety amid nationalist slogans and incitement to attacks, and will use all the means at their disposal to stop such incidents.”
It was only later, in response to the questioning of Chief Superintendent Ronen Hazut, that the police claimed that protesters had thrown rocks at officers at the scene.
According to residents of Sheikh Jarrah, the atmosphere that day was fairly calm, but nevertheless police remained in the neighborhood for several hours, employing crowd dispersal means. These included the spraying of foul-smelling “skunk water,” the deployment of mounted officers and the firing of stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets. Particularly active were officers from a special unit set up mainly to keep the peace during demolitions of illegally built Arab homes.
This unit is notorious for shooting and killing Yakub Abu al-Kiyan during a protest against such demolitions at Umm al-Hiran in the south in 2017. At the time, the police accused him of intentionally running over and killing policeman Erez Levi, but evidence emerged that Abu al-Kiyan may have hit Levi because he lost control of his car after police shot him.
The Sheikh Jarrah forces were commanded by Hazut, the commander of Jerusalem’s Shalem police station. Mohammed Kiswani, Jana’s father, has said he heard Hazut order his officers to “shoot anyone who leaves his house.” In a video taken by a neighbor of the Kiswanis, Hazut can be heard telling one officer, “Give it to them, give it to them, including the ones standing over there.” In response, the officer fired a sponge-tipped round at the place Hazut pointed to. According to the Justice Ministry investigation, that day the officers fired about 200 of these sponge-tipped rounds. Made by the U.S. company Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI), these “less-lethal” bullets cost an estimated $25 each.
Ihab Nashashibi was standing with his 19-year-old daughter outside the door of their home. “Suddenly I saw two soldiers in my courtyard. I said, ‘What are you doing in my house?’” he recalled, adding that one of them shouted an expletive at him and told him to go inside. “I hadn’t managed to move before the second one shot me,” Nashashibi said.
In video filmed by his daughter, the two of them can be heard shouting at the police officers that they are in the yard of their home. One officer says, “Go home,” and three seconds later a single shot is heard.
The bullet hit Ihab Nashashibi in the testicles, and he was taken to the city’s Makassed Hospital. He said the first question doctors asked him when they saw his condition was if he already had children. After an operation, he was hospitalized for three days.
Nashashibi’s mother was inside their home during the incident, and heard the shouting. She told Haaretz later that when she picked up her phone to call her son, a second sponge-tipped bullet, fired through a window, whistled above her head. Neighbors reported car and home windows were shattered by the sponge-tipped rounds that day.
Mohammed Sau, Nashashibi’s neighbor, was sitting outside his own door with a few other adults from the neighborhood. “A few policemen came over, 20 meters from us, and one told us, ‘If you don’t disperse, we’ll disperse you forcibly,’” Sau said.
“Before he even finished the sentence he threw a stun grenade. We ran into the house, and inside I suddenly felt blood running down my face and saw that I was wounded.” The explosion lacerated his face near the eye.
According to Karim Dekdek, who also lives nearby, “The demonstrators came to the neighborhood on foot and they were on the road up above with signs. The police started to disperse them and then that [police] unit came in. If there was a fly in the air, they would have shot it.
“We were sitting near Sau’s house when suddenly settlers arrived from Route 1 and began throwing stones. We yelled for the policemen to come, then they started throwing grenades and rubber bullets at us. One of us had his finger broken and another had his head opened above the eyes.”
In another incident that day, a policeman shot into a passing car, slightly wounding a passenger in the back seat. When the driver, Mohammed Greib, asked why they had shot at his car and who would pay for the shattered window, Hazut threatened to give him a ticket for obstructing traffic. Seconds later, Greib was removed from his car by force and thrown to the ground. Police officers searched his car and let him go.
A video filmed in Sheikh Jarrah shows another incident of unexplained police violence. A young Palestinian man flees from police officers and tries to hide behind a vehicle. At least three officers chase him. One rolls a stun grenade under the car, another points his gun at the man. It’s difficult to determine whether or not he fired it.
Eyewitnesses also said that at least two other young men were wounded by sponge-tipped bullets in Sheikh Jarrah that day, one in the chest and one in the face. Haaretz has not been able to track down either person.
Justice Ministry officials investigating Kiswani’s shooting, including detectives who visited the neighborhood, have not made contact with any of the other people who were injured that day, and no other incidents of gunfire have been investigated.
In a written response, police said the event involved “a disturbance of the peace involving hundreds of violent rioters that included a march, the chanting of nationalist slogans, the throwing of stones and fireworks at police and the torching of a wooded area, constituting a danger to the area. Police were forced to use a variety of means, in accordance with the regulations, to prevent clashes in the area and to maintain order and public safety. As part of this activity, a suspect was arrested for setting the trees alight. … Some of the incidents are under examination or the investigation of the Justice Ministry, and we cannot comment on them.”