Sunday, May 31, 2020

Issawiya; the East Jerusalem neighbourhood at the brunt of Israeli Police brutality


By K. KŁnzl - December 10, 2019
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [raids] [Issawiya]

The eight-seater van driven by Issawiya community leader Mohammad Abu Hummus lurches and screeches up the recently slicked pavement, stirring clouds of exhaust in its wake. Activists from Free Jerusalem, an Israeli collective raising awareness around the occupation, prepare to start their daily solidarity walks through the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya; documenting the continuous Israeli police bombardment that has been plaguing the neighbourhood for the past six months.


However this night, with the first winter rain, a gloomy backdrop accompanies the palpable fatigue from volunteers, “can you feel the tension?” Noah Benninga, a holocaust professor and volunteer from Jerusalem, says in a hushed tone.


Groups of kids eagerly run along the driver’s side, reporting to Abu Hummus the events of the afternoon; clashes broke out in the northern quarter, their friend plucked from a local supermarket by a group of police as he was buying chips.


Now approaching the seventh month of consecutive daily raids in Issawiya, hundreds of Palestinian residents have been injured and one young Palestinian dead.

 


Jerusalem Mayor, Moshe Leon claimed the recent increase in police presence was in response to residents attempts to attack Hadassah hospital workers with stones and Molotov cocktails in addition to an increase in crime in the close-by neighbourhood of French Hill.


Abu Hummus disputed this at a public panel event hosted by Free Jerusalem, stating that Issawiya residents were not aiming at hospital workers but in fact, the police cameras surround the building complex.


“We would never attack a hospital, the police just want to portray us in a certain way. We can only speculate why they have been so harsh to Issawiya, but we think that it is because, unlike other neighbourhoods, we have really strong united leadership, and this is something that the authorities really resent and try to break.” 


Clashes between Israeli police and residence have littered the streets of Issawiya with stun grenades and tear gas canisters. 


Groups of five to ten border police march up and down the road, checking their scopes as they wave their weapons towards the top of buildings, the whites of curious locals eyes glow through rod iron gates and blinds.


A bombardment of car horns harmonises as traffic comes to a halt.  In between a slew of profanity one can hear the whistling of rocks thrown by neighbourhood children whipping through the trees. 


Benninga scrambles to dawn a helmet as he explains this friendly fire aimed at police often hits passers-by and cars.

 


Most of the groups of children ducking from behind dumpsters look no more than twelve years old, tripping in their flip flops, their rocks bounce like pebbles off of heavy police body armour and weaponry.


The light of a resident’s lower window unveiled the silhouettes of three police lingering outside like statues, “'We think they are trying to provoke an attack,” Benninga whispers.


Clashes turned deadly during the first month of raids in June when police shot and killed 20-year old Issawiya resident Mohammad Obeid at close range after he ignited fireworks near the scene.


Sequential protests followed for three days after the shooting when Israel refused to release the body of Obeid for the funeral.

 

The raids are labelled by Israeli activist as “collective punishment” and, as they believe, are part of a larger scheme to drive out Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.


“Beit Hanina and Silwan are also under attack, but Issawiya is at the front lines,” Ahmad Adam Masri, an Issawiya resident, stated.


While the neighbourhood once thrived on 12,500 dunams of land before 1967, the 20,000 residents now are sequestered to just 2,000 dunams, conditions Abu Hummus described as “ghetto-like”.


“We are surrounded by settlements and an army station ...now Issawiya is like a training field, a test lab, there are house arrests and children interrogations, they are using Issawiya as a training field for the police work,” Abu Hummus said. 


Detaining Issawiya residents is a common tactic used by police, although usually for no more than 24 hours, children and men are forcefully taken from their homes, beaten, and detained with no just reason.


“The most shocking incident I witnessed was a mother get hit over the head with a rock by the police when she tried to chase after her thirteen-year-old son that was being arrested, she just dropped to the ground,” Benninga told Palestine Monitor.


Some 600 residents have been arrested since the start of the police campaign in June. 


Abu Hummus and his nephew Ahmad Adam Masri described their experiences of this police brutality.

 


Despite having a disability to his legs, during a parking spot dispute, Abu Hummus was dragged out from his car by the police, hitting his head on the pavement.  Abu Hummus was then detained, interrogated, and kept in isolation for a few hours before they released him on a condition that he would not return to Issawiya for two weeks. He was forced to sleep at a gas station.


“They always release me after a few hours because they know they have no reason or justification to detain me,” Abu Hummus told Palestine Monitor.


Adam Masri was also injured during a police drill in which Israeli forces clear the streets to leave it vacant, going one by one to close markets, restaurants, and shops at unpredictable times of the day.


Masri owns an electronic equipment store and after he refused to close down early, police returned a week later to forcefully enter his shop and beat him.


“This is just one example of how the police are unwilling to accept that a Palestinian stands his ground and demands his rights, they marked me and punished me,” Masri stated.


Israeli activists, residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, students, professors, and social workers are among the volunteers that film the police activity.


Their work has already provided beneficial evidence in court proceedings. Most notably when an activist from Free Jerusalem caught the crew of a popular Israeli TV show 'Jerusalem District' planting an M-16 weapon in the house of an Issawiya resident, later returning to arrest the house owner in front of the cameras as part of a PR stunt, the show has since been cancelled.


In recent weeks hundreds of Israeli demonstrators have rallied in front of both Mayor Leone’s residency in Jerusalem and the police station in the Russian compound to call for an end to the occupation in Issawiya.


“We want to live in respect and freedom so we can return to a reality of life in peace and equality,” Knesset member Yousef Janarin stated at a rally on Saturday.


“It’s obvious they (Israeli police) have no justification for doing so, being violent for the sake of being violent...” Masri explained.


“...what they are trying to do is they are trying to put the residents of Issawiya to bed.  I apologise for being vulgar and implying they are going to rape us, but they are the ones that taught us vulgarism, they are the ones that taught us brutality,” Masri added.

 

 

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