The police have stepped up nighttime raids on Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem over the past two months – gathering intelligence on an alleged 500 homes, contrary to proper procedures.
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The Justice Ministry admitted recently that the raids are conducted without a court warrant. Nonetheless, the police routinely continue to aggressively pursue the activity.
Last May, when Haaretz reported similar raids in the area beyond the West Bank separation barrier (the so-called “no-man’s-land” in East Jerusalem), a police source said it was a “one-time operation.” However, the raids have seemingly become routine practice.
In the past month, police raids were concentrated in the Ras Khamis neighborhood, adjacent to the Shoafat refugee camp. Despite being beyond the separation barrier, the neighborhood is in Jerusalem’s jurisdiction and under full Israeli sovereignty.
Residents living in the area said the policemen, often wearing masks, come to a different building every night. They then go from door to door, waking up the families in each apartment, asking for papers and taking details.
The residents say the policemen show no warrant, aren’t looking for anyone specific and don’t search the apartments. They hold an aerial photograph of the neighborhood, with which they register the residents’ names, including those of children and infants.
The police raided the home of neighborhood resident Bilal Mohammed at 1:30 A.M. one night last week. “They knocked hard on the door and rang the bell late at night. The children, aged 7-14, woke in fear and started to cry,” he recalled.
Mohammed said the officers asked to see everyone’s ID card and asked how many rooms the apartment had. “Then they went onto the neighbors. When I asked the officer why they were doing it, he said there was nothing special, they just wanted details.”
Another resident, Nabil Jit, said police raided his home at 12:30 A.M. a few nights ago.
“They stayed 15 to 30 minutes. Many officers stood outside. Three of them came into our house. I know the law, and this isn’t according to the law. I wanted to tell the officer, ‘Show me a court order,’ but I was afraid. Who wants to mess with them?”
The police started their nighttime raids about a year ago, presumably to collect intelligence, in the neighborhoods of Isawiyah, A-Tur and As-Sawana.
At the time, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit get the raids stopped immediately. ACRI also demanded that the person responsible for authorizing the raids be identified, and steps be taken against them.
The response to their demand only arrived last week. In a letter, Justice Ministry lawyer Shoshana Somech apologized for the delay and admitted that there were flaws in the police work.
“After examining the matter, we found that the flaws have been fixed and the procedures sharpened to prevent their recurrence,” she wrote.
Jamil Sanduqa, a member of the Ras Khamis residents’ committee, held a survey in various areas yesterday, and said the police have raided no fewer than 500 apartments in the past two months.
All the raids were carried out between 1 and 4 A.M., he said.
“Sometimes 100 policemen come in [to the neighborhood], sometimes more, all wearing black with their faces covered,” he said. “They knock on all the doors and if anyone doesn’t open, they force the door open,” he added.
Residents fear that the intelligence collection isn’t merely for “security requirements,” but preparation for steps Israel intends to take in neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier.
“Perhaps they want to demolish buildings, or revoke our residence status,” said Sanduqa.
ACRI wrote to the police’s legal adviser on Wednesday. “This is a horrifying practice that has no place in a democracy,” lawyer Nasrin Alian wrote. She said the police were “riding roughshod over the residents’ basic rights to privacy, liberty and dignity, and must be stopped immediately.”
The police defended the operation, saying that they carry out “targeted activity to foil terror and fight serious crimes. Every day, dozens of such acts are carried out in Jerusalem to ensure the residents’ safety.”