"Changes in Jerusalem police brass bring crackdown on Arab residents"


By Nir Hasson

Changes at the top of the Jerusalem District police are being felt in the eastern part of the capital. Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem have complained that the police, under New district commander Maj. Gen. Yossi Prienti, have been implementing an almost declared policy of collective punishment against neighborhoods considered too disruptive.
Two weeks ago such an enforcement/punishment operation ended in Isawiya in north Jerusalem, and a week ago a new operation started in Silwan. The operations included numerous arrests, roadblocks to inspect vehicles, tax collection, house demolitions, shutting off water, various fines, searches and random checks of identification, and more. Residents said police officers and commanders have admitted to them that in practice it is punishment in response to rock-throwing and other disturbances.
“Learn not to throw rocks. As long as you continue to throw rocks we aren’t leaving,” one Silwan resident said a police officer told him.
Last July, Maj. Gen. Niso Shaham left his post as commander of the Jerusalem District after he was investigated for sexually harassing female subordinates. The short period Shaham was in command was considered to be one of quiet. There was a drop in the number of violent incidents between residents and the police, as well as in the number of rock-throwing incidents and arrests. Shaham was replaced last August by Prienti.
Prienti served in many posts in the Southern District and brought new-old methods with him to Jerusalem. “The new commander set us back five years,” said Nasrin Alian, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “In Niso Shaham’s time things changed for the better, there was less tear gas, fewer rubber bullets and we didn’t see such large enforcement actions. I regret that with the entry of the new district commander the situation changed,” said Alian.
The residents’ feelings are backed by data. Last month, 143 residents of East Jerusalem were arrested, most from Isawiya and Silwan, on suspicion of disturbing public order, rock throwing and interfering with a police officer in the course of his duties, according to figures from the Silwan Information Center. In comparison, for all of 2011, only 566 East Jerusalem residents were arrested, and in 2010 only 460.
Last year, the latter half of which saw Prienti in the district commander’s role, there were 761 such arrests. Some of these arrests, claim Palestinians, were accompanied by violence.
The wave of arrests in Isawiya started two months ago, after residents marched and demonstrated in support of one of the village residents, Samar Isawi, who was freed in the Gilad Shalit deal and is now back in prison, and on a hunger strike. The march deteriorated into stone throwing at a police force that blocked the road. After the incident, police started its arrest and enforcement operation in Isawiya. Over 100 local residents, including minors were arrested. Residents also accused the police involved, which include Border Police and riot police units, of using excessive violence during the arrests.
Other authorities are also taking part in the enforcement actions, including the Jerusalem municipality, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Tax Authority, National Insurance Institute, Traffic Police and the Jerusalem municipal water corporation. All of these bodies have united under the auspices of the police to make residents’ lives miserable, in their words.
Police denied the claims of collective punishment and cited a number of violent incidents and terror attacks against Jewish residents near Isawiya as an explanation for their actions in the village.
As a result of the numerous incidents of throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails in Isawiya and Silwan at citizens and police, arrests of leading activists was initiated, police said. Last week, after the operation ended, Prienti and other senior officers met with village elders, who promised to do everything possible to impose order, said the police.
Police said there has been no change in policy except for the arrest of leading violent demonstrators, adding that other authorities joined the police in their areas of responsibility.
The Jerusalem municipality said it operates routinely to enforce the law in all city neighborhoods equally. “Any claim of collective punishment is baseless,” it said.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

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