While I was on a tour this past December in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem with Rabbis for Human Rights we stopped in to visit with Ahmad Qarae’en, a respected neighborhood leader. We met in a small community and youth center located on the main street of Wadi Hilweh, a neighborhood abutting the Old City walls. The center was in an old house fronted by a jerry-built structure that felt like it was part tent and part exposed walls – an addition that was clearly built by local residents. We sat on hard benches and chairs in front of Ahmad as he told us what it was like to live in Silwan.
Ahmed was using crutches and by the way he efficiently moved around with them it was obvious he did not have a temporary injury. I assumed he had some kind of a disease from childhood or a long-term genetic condition. That was until he recounted the story of how he had been shot in both legs outside a Jewish settler compound while trying to protect his son from being beaten by a settler. You’ll be able to read his story below.
This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the interaction between the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian residents whom they want to displace. Most of the material that follows comes from a report produced in 2010 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). You can access the full 59 page report, titled “Unsafe Space,” at www.acri.org.il/pdf/unsafe-space-en.pdf . Please keep in mind that I have chosen just a sampling of testimonies to illustrate some points below. These are representative of what thousands of Palestinians experience as part of their daily lives.
Armed Security Force
The cost for security to protect the Jewish settlers in the Arab neighborhoods close to the Old City of Jerusalem ballooned in 2011 to 81 million NIS (New Israel Shekels), or over $20 million. The Israeli Ministry of Housing pays for these private security services. A recent article in Haaretz reported that part of this money to protect settlers was diverted from social needs such as public housing in Israel. Keep in mind this is the government paying for security services for private residences, just one of the myriad ways that the government supports the settler NGOs who work to evict Palestinians from their homes.
As the ACRI report states, the private security guards “…employ verbal and physical violence, and even make use of loaded weapons. Moreover, according to residents the security guards are “quick on the trigger”, and perceive themselves as holding the ultimate power to serve as arbiters of daily life in the neighborhood.
Unlike police officers, whose ability to use force is limited by the strict guidelines established by law and police procedure, private security guards are not subject to these laws nor are they obligated by the basic rules that guide the police in carrying out their duties. Security guards do not undergo the same training as police officers, nor are they under the supervision of a publicly administered body. The result is that the security guards employed in East Jerusalem are not reined in by any clear working definitions, a situation which invites the abuse of power.”
Just one example of this was the killing of an unarmed father of 5 children by a security guard in 2010. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/the-guards-just-shoot/.
The guard claimed it was self-defense but here is Israeli TV coverage of the same incident which provided video evidence that challenged the security guard’s story. But, as usual, the head of the Jerusalem police accepted the guard’s account. No charges have ever been filed for this killing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb8pq9qrfRQ.
There are multiple such examples of these private guards using violence and live ammunition against Palestinian residents. They also affect the more mundane aspects of daily life as explained by this 14-year old boy in Silwan who described what it is like to play in a neighborhood with no playgrounds or parks and under the watchful eye of hostile guards: “Every time we play ball and the ball lands near the guards, they stop us from playing. They take the ball and throw it to the bottom of the wadi [valley], and so we’ve lost the ball and can’t get it back. The problem is that we, the children of Silwan, have nowhere else to play. I come home from school, eat lunch and prepare homework, and then I go to play in front of our house with the neighborhood kids, but the settlers don’t like that and neither do their security guards. They always accuse the little kids in the neighborhood of throwing stones at the settlers’ houses, but that’s not true. They don’t want to see us play. The police always believe their claims.”
It is the day-in and day-out threat of violence by the settlers that wears down the Palestinian residents. An example is this woman’s account of living next to a settler house. “The settlers’ house doesn’t have a permanent family living in it. There are only men there who are always accompanied by security guards, and they are all armed. In the evenings when they arrive at the apartment, there is a lot of noise, shouting, singing and prayer, and this generally lasts about an hour. I knock on their door so they’ll understand that they are making a lot of noise, then they come out, yelling at me and pushing or hitting me, and it develops into a confrontation…. The situation is even worse on the weekends, on Friday and Saturday, when there is much noise. They always knock on our door to deliberately taunt us, they sing at full volume, they shout. From the moment the Jewish Sabbath begins until it ends, it is impossible neither to sleep nor sit and relax.
Last week, Padi, my 12-year old boy, was walking in the corridor [between her house and the settler house] when at the same moment a settler passed by. He pinned my son’s body against the wall slammed his head into the wall — for no good reason, just to intimidate and harass our kids. One day I arrived at home and saw that my granddaughter was crying. I asked her what had happened and she told me that a settler from across the hall had passed her as she was sitting on the stairs and hit her for no reason.
We had another incident, one time when the children and I were sitting in the stairwell. They came, passed over us and began beating my little boy to a pulp. I couldn’t stand by, I got up to protect my child, and five of them jumped me and hit me on the head.”
Impunity from Prosecution:
Settlers act with impunity against Palestinian residents with no fear of police action. The ACRI report cited one woman who filed 20 complaints against violent settlers and not once was any action taken by the police. Other Palestinians report that the police refuse to accept their complaint forms alleging settler attacks or, even worse, when they try to file complaints they are themselves arrested as the instigators of the violence. A typical example follows.
During a neighborhood party of Palestinian residents, a local woman reported “10-12 settlers came out of the al-Kord family house in the direction of the second house under their control. One of the settlers was holding a video camera and he filmed me and all the girls [with me] in a very provocative manner: he pointed his camera at me and approached to within a foot. I shouted at him and asked him why he was filming me? He gave no reply and continued to shoot until finally I moved his camera aside. In response, he punched me in the face. As a natural reaction I defended myself, pushing him backwards, but he wouldn’t stop hitting me all over my body.” Police, who were nearby and witnessed the event, did nothing to stop the beating. This woman was so badly beaten she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. When she went to the police station afterwards to file a complaint, she was arrested for starting the fight. Ultimately she was given a three-month restraining order from her neighborhood and a 700 shekel fine.
This woman continued, “What really hurts, deep in my heart, is that it’s always the Arab residents who are blamed in every situation. I went to file a complaint with a broken nose and a body full of cuts and scratches, and the police arrested me! With the settlers, it’s the opposite: they harass us and beat us, and nothing is done to them, which only leads them to abuse us more”
An even more telling story was related by a mother in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood whose 17 year-old son was attacked by a settler. Her son was arrested when he filed a complaint at the police station. His mother gave this account. (Bold highlight is my emphasis.) “All my photographs, the three witnesses I brought, and all the evidence in favor of my son amounted to nothing. On the contrary, the investigator ignored it all and extended the remand of my son for another 24 hours. The investigator also said that he regretted that nothing could be done for my son and that he believed our story, but those were his instructions from above. When we asked about what happened to the settler who created this mess, he said that the problems in our neighborhood are endless and that he has no cause to arrest him.”
Repression of Non-violent Palestinian Leadership:
Unfortunately, Palestinians often resort to stone throwing out of a sense of helplessness and rage. They feel totally trapped in a system of violence and oppression that is rigged against them. At least part of the cause for this is that other, non-violent means of protests are met with disproportionate violence from the police or army: tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets. Community organizers who espouse non-violent protest are persecuted and banned, leaving no other outlet for the anger. In 2011 the police made a concerted effort to destroy the community organizations that oppose the settler activities in East Jerusalem by targeting the leaders. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/police-silwan/.
Next to Last Words:
The ACRI report sums up the settler violence and repressive government policies by pointing out that eventually all of society suffers.
“Selective and discriminatory enforcement of the law by the police, which turns the Palestinian residents into readily-available victims and permanent suspects; the arrest of minors in the middle of the night; the free reign granted to security guards, who use force broadly without even minimal supervision; the unequivocal and unacceptable preferential treatment shown towards Jewish needs in the neighborhood when it comes to planning, building and developing, to the point of taking control of precious land resources; the sweeping violations of freedom of movement, and more – in all these, the authorities systematically favor the needs and interests of the Jewish settlers over the basic needs of the Palestinian residents, while making daily life in these neighborhoods intolerable.
The results…are catastrophic in all that pertains to the preservation of human rights, and it undermines the basis for the existence of a well-ordered society and government.”
Final Words: The shooting of Ahmad Qarae’en in Silwan:
I began this post by describing a tour sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights where we met with Ahmad Qarae’en, the community leader who was shot and crippled. As a fitting end for this post I have included below his account because it ties together so many of the threads that were discussed above.
“My injury occurred on Friday, September 11, 2009. At 5:45 p.m. I returned from prayers [on the Harm al-Sharif/Temple Mount] and I was very tired from the fast, as it was the middle of the month of Ramadan. I was lying on the sofa, when suddenly I heard shouts. I put on shoes and went down the street to see what had happened. A neighbor’s son told me that a settler had hit another neighbor’s children. The boy pointed him out to me, and said it was over now and that everything was OK. I turned to go home, and suddenly I heard the screams of my little boy, and when I turned back I saw my oldest son coming to protect him from the settler. It was then that the settler pointed his rifle at the chest of my eldest son.
I came straight at the settler and shouted “Why are you beating up kids?” He raised his M-16 and said: “I’ll shoot you, too,” and he started walking backwards. I kept asking him: “Why are you hitting them?” When he reached the sidewalk, he tripped and fell to the ground. His friend who was with him told him: “Get up and shoot him,” and he got up and shot my right leg in the thigh. I fell and started shouting ‘Ambulance, ambulance!’ Suddenly I heard another shot and then I saw a little 13-year old boy named Amir Farouk screaming ‘My leg, my leg!’ The settler had shot him too. He then returned to me as I was lying in the street and my oldest son Wadi’e was hovering over me, crying. He shot me again, this time in my left knee.
One of the guys called an ambulance, but since I was bleeding a lot and the ambulance hadn’t arrived, the guys loaded me into one of their cars to drive me to the hospital. We had not yet left the neighborhood, when a border policeman stopped us near the Muslim cemetery. They removed the driver and handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest. All attempts to explain to him what had happened were to no avail. After a few long minutes, a border policeman opened the door of the vehicle and when he saw me bleeding, he did not react at all. He shut the door and stood next to us while talking with his superiors. After three minutes, a regular police unit arrived and released us. We had barely traveled another 10 meters when the border police stopped us again for another 3-4 minutes. This time, drivers who witnessed our first arrest and were stuck in traffic began shouting at the police that we were wounded, until they were convinced to let us pass.
They took me to the hospital on Mount Scopus, where I received about 7 units of blood. Before I even entered the emergency room, a police investigator arrived and asked the medical staff to stop my treatment so that he could question me. He collected my testimony, while the medical staff treated the second child who was wounded along with me. The hospital closed the entrance to the emergency room and didn’t allow anyone to enter and visit me other than my wife. Police were stationed at the entrance to the hospital.
After two days I underwent surgery, and as I came out of the operating room, still under the influence of anesthesia, two police officers arrived and demanded to question me. My two brothers who were in the room with me tried to explain that I had just come out of surgery and was still in intensive care, but they threatened to arrest my brothers if they didn’t leave the room. The officers accused me that I jumped the soldier and tried to wrestle away his weapon. Until that point, I didn’t know he was a soldier, I thought he was a settler, because he was in civilian clothes and looked just like the rest of the settlers in our neighborhood, and those who come to visit them. The investigators took DNA evidence from me and stated that they also wanted to question my two children.
The summons for the questioning of my two children arrived at my hospital ward after about a week. On the fourth day after the shooting, they questioned my youngest boy for about 3 hours. His mother, who was present at the questioning, told me that the questions seemed designed to make the child feel that it was his fault for what happened to his father, that if he hadn’t gone out to play in the street, then his father wouldn’t have fought with the settler and wouldn’t have been shot. They asked him repeatedly why I went out into the street, what happened to your father, and so on. During the investigation of my oldest son, they shouted at him in Hebrew all the time and he did not understand a thing. Two investigators questioned him at the same time, while another typed into the computer.
I was hospitalized for 20 days. A month later I received a call from the Russian Compound from “Room 4” (the Investigations Unit which deals with cases from East Jerusalem.) They told me to come down for further questioning. I told them that I can’t walk, but if they wanted they could come to my house and question me there. My attorney, Michael Sfard, wrote them a letter that I cannot come in for questioning, and since then they never called me again. Recently I learned that the prosecutor closed the case against the man who shot me. He was arrested for a total of 24 hours and then he went home as if nothing happened.”