Palestine Monitor, 2 October 2010
“What’s happening in Silwan is not just these past two weeks, it’s been happening for months,” Zakaria Odeh, the Director of the Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, told me when I visited him in his office in East Jerusalem.
Israeli police and security guards looking down on the Al-Bustan neighbourhood of Silwan (East Jerusalem). Photo: Jillian Kestler - D’Amours
Last Wednesday, 22 September, Samer Sarhan was shot to death by a private security guard working for settlers in the East Jerusalem village of Silwan. Sarhan was 32-years-old and the father of five. Following his murder, violent clashes between the Palestinian villagers from Silwan and the Israeli police, guards, and settlers erupted.
The violent collisions lasted for days and Jerusalem police conducted raids into Palestinian homes, detaining residents. The Wadi Hilweh Information Centre reports that seven men aged 16 to 26 were detained on Wednesday, 29 September, and are now awaiting prosecution.
The fighting during the past week resulted in numerous injuries, including the death of a 14-month-old boy who was killed in his home due to suffocation from tear gas, and the hospitalization of Sarhan’s widow who suffered from asphyxiation after Israeli police shot a tear gas canister into her family’s home.
Media reports described the clashes as reminiscent of the second Intifada, as this past week Palestinians began throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, while the Israeli police and military shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into large crowds of residents.
According to Odeh, the recent escalation in tensions between settlers and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem is a result of the larger effort to dispossess Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem of their land: “They envision Jerusalem as the centre of Israel, everything they do—land confiscation, military incursions, checkpoints—is aimed at achieving this—an undivided, majority Jewish capital.”
There is a vast inequity in the security provided to settlers and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. This iniquity is a significant factor in the tensions that manifested in last week’s clashes. Understanding the role of the Israeli government in creating this imbalance helps to situate the recent events in Silwan in the larger context of Israeli policy toward East Jerusalem.
Walking in the streets of East Jerusalem areas like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, the occupation is palpable, visible and tragic. I see Jewish settlers and Palestinians living side by side, sharing the sidewalks and passing each other in their cars. However, knowing that every settler in this neighbourhood has acquired his home at the cost of an evicted Palestinian family renders this initial impression of coexistence as illusory.
Every settler home is draped in or marked by an Israeli flag; and with the highly visible presence of security forces, these homes more closely resemble fortresses, heavily guarded by armed men in fatigues.
Settler home in Silwan. Photo: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours
Status of East Jerusalem
In 1967, when control over East Jerusalem was seized by Israel after the Six Day War, Palestinian civilians living in the disputed capital city were given “permanent residency” status in Jerusalem.
Following the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which divided the rest of the Palestinian Occupied Territories into varying levels of autonomy, East Jerusalem was exempted, as Israel argued the city should be reserved for “final status talks.” And so to this day, East Jerusalem and all its residents remain under the full jurisdiction of Israel. Despite repeated pronouncements by the international community that East Jerusalem is illegally occupied, the Palestinian Authority is barred from exercising any power within the city’s parameters.
The annexation of East Jerusalem has been accompanied by a systematic increase in Israeli settlements there; Palestinians are evicted in order to make room for these increases. According to a report by the Arab Studies Society, a total of 24,178 dunums (roughly 6,000 acres) of land had been confiscated from Palestinians in East Jerusalem for the use of Jewish settlements as of 2008.
The Gap in Security
The advance of settlers into East Jerusalem is accompanied by discrimination against Palestinians residing there. It is important to note that while Palestinians pay the same taxes as all residents of the city, the Jerusalem municipality spends only 11% on services for those areas in East Jerusalem.
A fact that is most significant in the light of recent events is the disproportionate allocation of security to Jewish settlers and Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government allots separate funds to provide for the security of settlers who populate these same East Jerusalem areas.
Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing controls the security provided to settlers in Palestinian neighbourhoods. The Ministry contracts private security firms that train and supply armed guards throughout East Jerusalem areas. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), an Israeli non-profit organization, reported that the Ministry paid a total of NIS 54,540,000 (roughly 15 million US dollars) to private security firms in 2010.
In contrast, Palestinians must use the Jerusalem police who have a documented history of discriminatory practices towards Palestinians. ACRI conducted an in-depth investigation into how residents of East Jerusalem view the Jerusalem police, revealing that most residents have no trust in them.
ACRI reports, “What emerges from these testimonies is the biased handling of criminal investigations employing blatantly illegal tactics, such as intimidation of relatives with the threat of arrest, and disregard of available evidence. Such practices lead Palestinian residents to believe that police investigations are biased from the start and that they are not conducted with the intention of ascertaining the truth of the matter.”
Silwan resident, Said Abu Nasser states, “The Israeli police merely serve as the ‘hands’ of the operation, to carry out arrests and regular harassment of Palestinians, acting under the orders of the settlement guards.”
In other words, police are largely ineffective in providing security for and protective services to Palestinian residents.
For Odeh, the bigoted behavior of the Jerusalem police is clearly reflected in their response to the recent murder, pointing out that the man who killed Sarhan was released after only 3 hours, because he, like many others, can easily claim self-defense.
While reflecting on the disparity in protection, Odeh asks, “What’s going on in Silwan, it’s part of an escalation. How else could 400 people make life miserable for half a million?”
A sttler looking out on Silwan. Photo: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours
Article written by Charlotte Silver, Source.