Yesterday, on Salah ed-Din Street (the Champs-Elysees or Fifth Avenue of East Jerusalem, only very crowded, quite delapidated, and not at all chic, unless you like good coffee), it was absolutely crowded with cars and pedestrians in advance of the coming week-long Muslim Eid holiday.
Even at the best of times, people don’t walk on the sidewalks in Palestinian areas. Usually, there isn’t very much of a sidewalk anyway. But, it’s just so much more convenient to walk on the streets.
Women in black robes made of synthetic fabric and embroidered in Turkey or China, with tightly wrapped synthetic scarves, were pushing their multiple young children out out ahead of them, in between parked cars, hoping to make the oncoming traffic stop to let them cross without any moment of waiting.
As is usually on busy days, there were no parking spaces, it was impossible to get close to the already-full parking lots, and there was a solid line of double-parked cars in the right-hand traffic lane.
As is also usual on Fridays during prayer time, when there are a lot of people travelling in their cars to get to Al-Aqsa Mosque, and on the eves of big holidays like the one coming up, there is a special police action to ticket cars. Hundreds of tickets can be issued in one fell swoop.
What happened yesterday is an undercover Israeli police unit, driving an Eldan rented car, swooped right in front of me when I was already in my car, seat belt buckled, and switching gears to move forward in traffic, after I stopped for an extremely brief period of time in front of the Educational Bookshop. The driver was wearing a black t-shirt and black sunglasses. The passenger was in a dark navy blue shirt and trousers, tucked into black combat boots. This was a uniform I had never seen before. He jumped out before his car even stopped, and raced towards me in a frightening and commanding way.
He had two other people he was accosting at the same time. So, he took my passport and walked off to deal with the other cases, and kept me waiting just as if I were at a checkpoint.
I said they should just give me back my passport, and give me the ticket, so I could go.
Apparently, East Jerusalem is the only place in Israel where the Israeli police operate undercover.
Nevertheless, this team seemed to be familiar to the locals on the street, some of whom actually smiled and shook the subtly-uniformed guy’s hand. This was not because the “policemen are your friends”. This was the greasy groveling adaptation of some East Jerusalem Palestinians who live under a 43-year-long military occupation that tries more and more to pretend to be just a normal civilian life.
He tried all kinds of intimidating nonsense, including inspecting the car to see if there were any violations (there were not).
The ticket was written in Hebrew, of course. My lawyer translated it. The ticket complained that I spoke in English. It was full of outright lies: It said my car was blocking Salah ed-Din Street all the way back to the beginning of the street. It said that I was not in the car, and they waited for me to return, at which point (they said, completely untruthfully) I said “No, No, No” to them and refused the ticket, so they had to stick it on the windshield of the car. All of this was a lie — from the police.
This was nothing, of course, compared to what’s been happening in Shoafat Refugee Camp, or the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, where many tens of policemen accompanied by special forces decide to conduct punitive “automobile inspections”, which nowadays usually attracts a response by dozens of young boys throwing stones.
Once, at Qalandia, I was with a family driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah. A police car was positioned right at the point where cars were confined in only one lane, with no possibility of changing. The police officers in the car stopped every car passing. They earned a lot of revenue for the State of Israel that night. In our car alone, they issued a 600-shekel ticket to one of the brothers in the back seat, for not wearing a seat belt…
Now, I’ve just seen Richard Silverstein’s posting here that links to an article here, written by Eyal Cline [identified elsewhere — here — as Eyal Niv] who writes that “Israel’s police often does not live up to the directives of the law and tend to be rude, violent, flawed in terms of their conduct, and characterized by a masterful resolve to show the citizenry just who is boss”.
Cline’s report is chilling. He state that “in the Israel police there is a norm of violence and a lordly attitude; that policemen take it upon themselves to act in a rude and criminal manner; and that they enjoy nearly automatic backing from their commanders, who are also afflicted by this dysfunctional approach. When reading the accumulating reports and watching the video clips, one understands that these are not exceptional cases or focal problems. The Police Internal Investigations Unit, with its full 80 staff members, can no longer withstand the nearly 30,000 policemen. A wide-ranging process of cleansing, training, careful follow-up, and compensation is needed – at all levels”.
Cline notes that “policemen of all ranks and levels feel that they have the right – and that it is even their calling and mission – to prefer mainstream and personal positions over their public obligation toward people who are different from them, and no one stops them. In fact, they are even encouraged to think this way. This is especially true in demonstrations and searches of Arabs, who are not recruited to the force and are considered by many policemen to be permanent suspects. In this light, which allows privately-held positions to influence their work because their calling and mission are above the law, another a-political, professional enforcement agency dares give public support for the radical idea to ‘deny citizenship as a means of deterrence’.”
He adds that “Now, in light of the concerning trend of admiring power-agents and the drive to extend their powers, the Knesset has come up with its latest round of ill-thought legislation: providing inspectors and security guards with the authorities of the police. What folly is that? Who wants to permit a contracted mercenary working at $5/hr. to detain and arrest passers by? Who thinks it sounds reasonable for those gate-keepers, for whom the cafés collect a two shekel surcharge from every client, or the staff that inspects the register tape as you go out of the grocery store, to be authorized to employ ‘reasonable force’? Really, what are they thinking! First give them the obligations that policemen have toward citizens, obligations that are not actually upheld as things stand! First improve the way the police treats citizens! First guarantee us a clean and efficient police force, which acts fairly to all, before you leap to give them untrained reinforcements! What is this obsession of enhancing a situation which is already dismal by adding [n.b. – untrained and unsupervised] security personnel to policemen?”
“The Israel police has become one of the greatest problems in the State of Israel. More and more of its personnel, who are supposed to be in charge of law enforcement, have become terrifying bullies, and instead of protecting and serving the citizens, they are becoming the largest criminal organization in the country. This is especially true when it comes to the courtesy they show, and most of all during arrests, interrogations, and demonstrations. They act with great violence and a sense of being the masters of the citizenry, and abuse their authority to lie to the courts. This will hit all of us, although we do not know when, because as far as they are concerned, the police are not here to serve the citizens but rather, for the citizens to serve them and for their mission, with no accountability. They attack with no second thoughts, they assume we are all criminals, while they themselves ignore the law. Rights? Due process? Freedom of expression? Serving the citizens? Not in Israel, apparently”, Cline concludes.