Policeman answers an activist: Police is hard on Arabs and lefties, easy on settlers

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »
Friday in Sheik Jarrah (photo: Yossi Gurevitz)

Friday in Sheik Jarrah (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

For some time now, demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah have been complaining that the Jerusalem police is upholding the law in a discriminating and politically biased way. The police allows rightwing groups to march, demonstrate and carry out all sort of events in the neighborhood – even when they harass local Palestinian residents – while at the same time, it limits the left’s protest to a garden outside the neighborhood.

Since the protest against the colonization of Sheikh Jarrah started, more than 140 protestors have been arrested.

Last week, a group of legal scholars – among them former government attorney Michael Ben-Yair – sent the current government attorney a letter protesting police’s behavior in Sheikh Jarrah. Not that it helped. After last Friday’s rally, which was dispersed by police (video), activist Haggai Matar wrote a post on Mysay.co.il (Hebrew), protesting police discrimination. “Is the law really a law, or is it just what the policeman feels like doing?” asked Matar.

Moshe Strol, a retired cop, answered Matar (Hebrew). He wrote about his own experiences as a policeman in the north, describing a demonstration in a Druse village in which himself and two other policemen were charged with opening fire and causing the death of a local woman.

As a policeman, I was in thousands of demonstrations. I want to tell you, not in a politically correct way: in demonstrations of Arabs the finger on the trigger is very easy. Demonstrations of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) are treated with kid gloves. Demonstrations of left-wing activists on Friday also means trigger-happy cops. Rightwing activists in the settlements which break olive trees and beat the Border Police are also treated with kid gloves.

These are orders from above. Don’t believe what police officers and the Police Minister say.

Friday in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Yossi Gurevitz)

Friday in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

UPDATE: the following article, protesting Jeruslem’s police “illegal actions and discriminatory behavior”, was published this week on Haaretz‘s online Hebrew edition (Translation courtesy of Coteret).

There is no police in Jerusalem

By Avner Inbar and Asaf Sharon, Haaretz, July 12

More than 40 public figures, academics and intellectuals sent a strong letter last week to the attorney general, asking him to check suspicions of illegitimate and politically tendentious behavior by the Jerusalem police toward the popular protest in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The signatories included a former attorney general, three former ministers of education, a former Knesset speaker, a retired district judge, a former civil service commissioner, Israel Prize winners and university presidents. That such a distinguished group of senior public figures would confront the police attests to the depth of the crisis created by the senior command in Jerusalem.

Since demonstrations against the settlement in Sheikh Jarrah began about seven months ago, more than 120 demonstrators have been arrested, the large majority of whom were detained for 36 hours or more. After the courts ruled that dispersing the demonstrations was illegal, the district police changed tactics: since December the area of the disputed houses has been surrounded with police barriers. But the barriers are used selectively: anyone with a religious-right wing appearance is allowed to pass through them with ease whereas others are forbidden entry.

In March the protesters petitioned the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Jerusalem police to allow them to hold a protest rally in the neighborhood. The district commander argued at the hearing that Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most explosive places in Jerusalem and therefore he could not allow political events to be held there.

Nonetheless, right-wing activists were allowed to hold clearly political events in the neighborhood. The peak of those events was on the last Jerusalem Day, when police allowed hundreds of extreme right-wingers into the area of the disputed houses. All day and all night young religious people danced to songs calling for revenge against the Gentiles in the middle of the street and in the yards of the Palestinian homes, with full police escort. Left-wing activists called to the site by the Arab residents were removed and some were even arrested.

Two days later the left-wing demonstrators wanted to hold their protest in the same place where the right-wing people had demonstrated. When the police officers refused and ordered the demonstrators to move away, hundreds of them sat down on the street in protest. The police responded with severe violence, injured many of the activists and arrested 14 of them, even though the protesters’ demonstration was completely nonviolent and was supported by most of the residents of the neighborhood. During the court hearing the police demanded to remove the activists from Sheikh Jarrah and did not stop short of digressing from the truth, such as imputing baseless charges of assault even after the court rebuked them for doing so.

Even those who were not convinced by the profusion of evidence accumulated over the last months as to the political tendency of the officers of the Jerusalem police would be hard-pressed to ignore the latest decision by the head of the district prosecution unit. He decided to retract the indictments against five extreme right-wing activists who participated in a pogrom in the neighborhood of Jabel Mukabbar two years ago, considering “the fact that it was a gathering that did not rise to the level of a riot and considering the public atmosphere after the criminal attack at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva.”

Footage of the event broadcast by the media clearly shows right-wing demonstrators, some armed with knives and clubs, beating police and pelting Palestinian cars and homes with stones. Following the event senior police officers said they were surprised by “the severity of the riots. It was a very harsh and very violent entry… they used stones, firecrackers, anything.” A senior police officer was quoted as saying “it is not clear how the Jerusalem district command allowed an illegal event to deteriorate to such a level. It is an assault against an innocent population.”

Whereas the Jerusalem police does not see fit to exhaust the proceedings against the Kahanist rioters, dozens of Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are being charged with rioting because they sat on a dead-end street in front of a police barrier preventing them from holding a legal protest. It is evident, therefore, that according to the district officers the offense of rioting does not depend on the actions of the demonstrators but on the message they are carrying.

With its illegal actions and discriminatory behavior, the Jerusalem police under the command of Cmdr. Aharon Franco has become an armed militia in the service of a nationalist ideology. The Franco police is single-handedly undermining the moral and political legitimacy on which it relies as a policing force. As residents of Jerusalem and citizens of Israel we can no longer recognize the authority of the district police that acts as a political party and not as an arm of law enforcement; at least not until there is a thorough examination of its behavior and the fundamental distortions in the district are corrected.

The authors are activists in the “Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity” movement and doctoral candidates in political philosophy at the University of Chicago (Inbar) and Stanford University (Sharon)

Injuries, tear gas in Nabi Saleh, record crowd in Sheikh Jarrah / Personal notes from Friday’s demonstrations

Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, media, The Left, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »
soldiers at Nabi Saleh

soldiers at Nabi Saleh

“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.

Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.

The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.

The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.

After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas

A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)

By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.

As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!

I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?

I don’t have a good answer.

The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.

Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah

I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.

UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.

Jerusalem: Arrests, eviction orders in Sheikh Jerrah

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Jerusalem – about 200 people took part in the weekly protest against the Jewish colonization of Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Among them were chairmen of NIF Naomi Hazan, former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg and author David Grossman.

During the protest, several activists, among them Grossman, marched near the area of the four houses already occupied by settlers. Four protesters were arrested. Throughout the rest of the demonstration activists occasionally tried to break into the closed area and were pushed back, somewhat violently, by police and border police forces.

There have been numerous arrests of protesters in recent weeks in Sheikh Jerrah. Two weeks ago the police arrested one of the protest organizers on Friday evening at his home. He was later released without charges, after the police failed to present any evidence against him. In a different incident the head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai El-Ad, was also arrested, only to be released without charges as well.

A few days ago, two more Palestinian families received eviction orders from their houses in Shikh Jerrah. It is not clear when the police will try to actually force the families out, so peace activists are trying to keep a 24/7 presence in the neighborhood. Read the rest of this entry »