On 23 January, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel turned to the Jerusalem Police Chief with a demand that he put an end to the police’s ongoing “enforcement operation” in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya.
Palestinian residents described this large-scale operation, which lasted six weeks, as a village under siege: Every entrance to Issawiya was blocked off by barricade checkpoints, with inspections for each and every person entering or leaving the village. The presence of such unusually large numbers of police in the heart of the village, including Border Police, Riot Police, and undercover units, has led to daily clashes, during which the police excessively used riot control measures such as tear gas, rubber bullets and shock grenades, resulting in numerous injuries to both children and adults.
Residents estimate that since the start of the operation, some 100 people were arrested including 40 minors. Children eyewitness accounts describe police use of such measures as handcuffing and shackling of children’s arms and legs without justification, the use of violence against handcuffed and blindfolded children and the interrogation of children without their parents being present. In some of the houses where arrests have been carried out, doors have been knocked off their hinges while residents were sleeping inside, no search warrants were presented despite homeowners’ requests and property damage has been recorded as well.
In a letter to the police chief, ACRI Attorney Nisreen Alyan writes that there is an appropriate way to enforce the law. These operations however do not abide by the law and we demand an end to this behavior immediately.
The operation in Issawiya was concluded at the end of January. Soon after, a similar operation began in Silwan.
The full letter by Attorney Nisreen Alyan can be found below:
January 23, 2013
Commissioner Yossi Pariente
Chief of Police, Jerusalem District
Re: The Illegal Police “Enforcement Operation” in Issawiya over Recent Weeks
- Over the last month and a half, residents of the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem have experienced a serious deterioration in their sense of personal security. Local residents have contacted us with complaints that the police, who are supposed to serve the public, instead are acting discriminatorily and with a heavy hand against the residents.
- Since the end of November 2012 till today, the Jerusalem Police have conducted an enhanced “enforcement operation” in Issawiya. Residents describe it as a village under siege: Over recent weeks every entrance to Issawiya has been blocked off by barricade checkpoints, with inspections for each and every person entering or leaving the village; police have conducted searches of cars and their contents, and the Traffic Police and vehicle examiners have handed out sweeping traffic tickets. Additionally, there has been an enhanced presence of police Special Forces – Border Police, Riot Police, and undercover units – carrying out actions more appropriate for the battlefield than for a residential neighborhood. The presence of such unusually large numbers of police in the heart of the village has led to daily clashes, during which the police excessively used riot control means such as tear gas, sponge bullets and sonic grenades, resulting in numerous injuries to both children and adults. At the same time, there have been widespread arrests. Residents estimate that since the start of the operation, some 100 locals have been arrested including 40 minors. We have received testimonies describing the violent nature of these arrests, including the arrest of children in violation of the Youth Law (Adjudication, Punishment, and Treatment 5731-1971), where the police have used such measures as handcuffing and shackling of children’s arms and legs without justification, blindfolding them and covering their heads, forcing children to sit on the floor of military vehicles with their heads bent between their knees, interrogation of children without the presence of their parents, and the use of violence against handcuffed children. In some of the houses where arrests have been carried out, doors have been knocked off their hinges while residents were sleeping inside – no knock on the door or request to open was heard. In homes that were searched, no search warrants were presented despite homeowners’ requests, and property damage has been recorded as well.
- The positioning of checkpoints at every entrance to the village combined with indiscriminate and sweeping searches of every vehicle passing through them has severely violated the rights of local residents – including such basic rights as freedom of movement, human dignity, and privacy – and has harmed their ability to lead normal lives. When leaving for work in the morning and returning in the evening, or when the children leave for school and return in the afternoon, or when going to the supermarket or simply running errands, residents are forced to stop at the checkpoints, answer police questions, and present identification cards. As if they were living in a closed military zone, their ability to invite guests or relatives from outside the neighborhood has been severely curtailed, as visitors are refraining from entering Issawiya due to the current bleak situation.
- We remain in the dark as to the motives behind these sweeping enforcement activities, which have continued unabated in Issawiya for more than six weeks. But regardless of the reasons behind them, it is the duty of the police – whether in catching criminals or in dealing with public disturbances – to act in a reasonable and proportionate manner while respecting human rights obligations. The police may only take action against an individual when there is reasonable suspicion against him or her, and they must not impose sweeping restrictions on entire neighborhoods in the hope that this will curb criminal activity. That is manifestly unreasonable.
- As a result of these police activities, local children are currently afraid to play outside, parents are not allowing their children to walk alone even to nearby neighborhood shops, residents are avoiding as much as possible leaving their homes even for errands, and life in the neighborhood has become one of constant stress and insecurity. Residents have lost their freedom of movement and fear for their personal safety, in stark contrast to the fundamental principles underlying the rule of law.
- It is doubtful that anyone would dream of placing such a virtual “lockdown” – especially one imposed by Border Police – on any neighborhood in Israelor western Jerusalem, but in an Arab neighborhood like Issawiya, the authorities operate differently. The impression, hard to escape, is that Israeli law enforcement officials have simply taken the old familiar police regime they employ in Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron, and have adopted it for East Jerusalem. Beyond the delays and severe disruption to their lives, local Arab residents once again have received the clear message from the Jerusalem District Police, loud and clear, that Jerusalem residency in no way guarantees them equality before the law. This is underscored by the words of a Border Police officer who visited the village three weeks ago and told residents that, “This operation will continue until there is calm here, and until you act in the village the same way you act out on Jaffa Street… Israelis, especially those who live next to you, need to feel safe and secure.”
- To put this in context, let us recall that most of East Jerusalem today suffers from under-enforcement of the law by police, especially regarding the crimes that directly affect the quality of life of local Arab residents – crimes such as property theft, drug dealing, violent crime, etc. – in which the police choose not to employ the heavy-handed tactics they’ve used here.
- In light of the above, we ask for your urgent intervention to put an immediate end to such illegitimate police operations, and we further demand that law enforcement be exercised equally and without discrimination, as required by law.
- We would appreciate your earliest possible response.
Adv. Nisreen Alyan
Commissioner Yohanan Danino, Chief of the Israel Police
Superintendent Shaul Gordon, Legal Counsel of theIsraelPolice
Adv. Michael Frankenberg, Legal Advisor of theJerusalemPolice
Mr. Nir Barkat, Mayor ofJerusalem