Reform the Jerusalem Police

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Jerusalem police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Jerusalem police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Something bad is happening in the Jerusalem police. Testimonies, videos, court records and additional evidence gathered over the past six months prove that the capital’s police are acting without restraint, with violence that cannot be explained and an aggressiveness that fuels the violence in the city.

In the past few months, six complaints against officers in the district have been filed with the Justice Ministry unit that investigates allegations of police misconduct.

Among the complainants are a 16-year-old boy who testified that he was brought by policemen to a public toilet where he was stripped, beaten and humiliated for about an hour; a 60-year-old woman who was beaten, handcuffed and dragged due to a dispute with officers; a 20-year-old man who was dragged out of bed before dawn, in a case of mistaken identity.

These incidents join numerous testimonies about the use of excessive force and collective punishment against protesters in Jerusalem this year.

All communities are affected: anti-Netanyahu activists in the Balfour protests; Haredim protesting the light rail in their neighborhoods; “hilltop youth” demanding an investigation of the death of Ahuvia Sandak. But those who suffer the most from this violence are Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Jewish activists who protest with them.

Again and again the police employ unnecessary force against them, using stun grenades, plastic-tipped bullets, “skunk water,” clubs and arrests.

On Friday the police again forcefully dispersed a quiet protest against the eviction of the Salem family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah. These protests have been held every Friday for 12 years, and they always disperse quietly. But in the past few weeks the police have been insisting, for their own reasons, to disperse them by force, by firing stun grenades at the demonstrators.

Friday also saw the arrest of three protesters, including the policewoman-clown Shoteret Az Ulai Yihyeh Yoter Tov (an extended pun operating on several levels of Hebrew and Israeli culture). An original activist, she operates in a space between protesters and officers in a bid to calm the situation and remind everyone of the humanity behind the uniform.

The police arrested the protesters for frivolous offenses and exploited Shabbat to keep them detained for the entire weekend. Sadly, Magistrate’s Court Judge Michal Hirschfeld did not criticize the police’s use of arrest as punishment.

There has been no apparent change in the conduct of the Jerusalem police since Omer Bar-Lev became public security minister in June.

Bar-Lev must use his authority to order a comprehensive examination of the Jerusalem District Police. The Justice Ministry unit must review all of the complaints that have been submitted, efficiently and quickly, and initiate investigations of its own, even absent complaints, and prosecute violent police officers.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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