Top Court to Discuss Private Security Guards in East J'lem

Personnel hired by the state to protect Jewish neighborhoods.

For the first time, the High Court will discuss Israel's deployment of 350 private security guards at Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Guards there have been on the job for 20 years.

Yesterday, Justice Salim Joubran gave the state two weeks to give its position on the deployment of the guards. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also turned to the High Court yesterday, protesting actions by the Housing and Construction Ministry in support of the security men.

A private security guard in the City of David, in East Jerusalem -  Michal Fattal - October 31 2011
Michal Fattal

The guards are deployed by private companies that are hired by the state to protect Jewish residences in East Jerusalem, including Beit Yonatan in Silwan and Ma'aleh Hazeitim in Ras al-Amud.

While the guards' deployment has sparked conflicts with East Jerusalem Palestinians for many years, relations between the security men and the residents have deteriorated sharply over the past two years. The guards have increasingly used live fire.

This included the shooting death of Silwan resident Samar Sarhan in September 2010 and the killing of Silwan teenager Milad Ayyash in April 2011. Ayyash was hit by bullets fired from Beit Yonatan.

In 2005, the Or Commission recommended that authority for monitoring the guards be transferred to the Public Security Ministry; the government agreed but in January 2007 decided to stick with the existing arrangement under which the guards are deployed by the Housing and Construction Ministry.

Responsibility unclear

Over the years, budget allocations for the East Jerusalem security men have multiplied dramatically. This year NIS 76 million has been allocated, compared with NIS 7 million in 1991. But the responsibility for the daily monitoring of the guards has not been clearly spelled out.

In the absence of rigorous monitoring, the guards have expanded their activities over the years. East Jerusalem residents say that recently the security men have taken training courses in the enclaves where they are stationed. These courses are often conducted at night. In some drills, the guards run between houses with their rifles cocked, shouting "fire, fire, fire."

The Housing and Construction Ministry is expected to release soon terms for tender bidding among companies interested in deploying guards in East Jerusalem. Should the court uphold the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's petition, this bidding will be deferred by a temporary injunction.

ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir said yesterday that "in tandem with carrying out its duty to protect Jewish residents who live in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the state must give equal weight to its duty to protect Palestinian residents of the same neighborhoods."

The Housing and Construction Ministry said it would respond to the court once it receives a copy of the petition.