Five of the 22 Israeli demonstrators – now being referred to in Israeli press reports as “extreme rightwing” – arrested for rioting in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebal Mukaber on Sunday evening, are still being held “until further notice”, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said on Tuesday morning.
He said that another five who are under the age of 16 are being held for an additional 24 hours. The other 12 have been released, Rosenfeld said – but they have been ordered by the Jerusalem District Court to stay away from the Jebal Mukaber neighborhood until further notice. “If we see them there, we’ll arrest them immediately, and they will be brought to Court again, but their status will obviously have been changed”.
It is not yet clear if any of those arrested are being been charged with criminal acts.
Protest leaders had earlier said they would persist until they were successful in their efforts to destroy the home and expel the family of the man who attacked a West Jerusalem yeshiva some ten days ago, killing eight students there.
The attacker, Alaa Abu Dheim, was himself shot and killed by a gun-carrying student and someone living near the yeshiva. Abu Dheim’s body was not released for burial until a week later, in order to avoid any ceremony, and was interred under police supervision at 3 am last Thursday morning, with only his father and brothers present.
The demonstrators, who had announced their intentions several days in advance, broke through, or supposedly outflanked, a massed, deployed and supposedly-prepared police force. They managed to throw stones at houses belonging to a number of residents of Jebal Mukaber, breaking windows, rooftop solar water heaters, and car windows — and they injured several Israeli policemen.
They also appeared to incite hatred and fear in an already fraught environment.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the protestors marched through the streets of the village, carrying signs baring the words, ‘Enemies don’t earn livings’, ‘Expel the Arab enemy’, and ‘Israel for Israelis’, while chanting ‘Death to Arabs’.”
The demonstrators had gathered at a scenic spot with a touristic restaurant in south Jerusalem called the Promenade, located in a neighborhood that was a no-man’s land from 1948 until 1967, but is now a Jewish residential and commercial district. It is near the Government House, a stately building with a rose garden and palm trees that was built to serve as the seat of the British administration during the pre-1948 Mandate period, and which since has housed various offices of the United Nations. It is now the base of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
Jebal Mukaber is just a short walk down the hill.
It is one of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been divided by Israeli military construction of The Wall. The Abu Dheim family home the demonstrators were seeking to destroy is located on the Jerusalem side.
Prior to the well-publicized demonstration, the Jerusalem Post reported that “police raised their level of alert and reinforcements were in place around Jebel Mukaber … Police said Sunday that they would allow the activists to hold a protest on the promenade in Armon Hanatziv, but vowed to stop anyone attempting to march toward Jebel Mukaber”.
Israel’s YNet website reported that a senior police official admitted: “We were surprised by the intensity of the riots … There was marked violence towards police personnel and local residents, and protestors stormed their way into the village using stones, fire crackers and anything else they could get their hands on”.
Fatmeh al-‘Ajou, an attorney with Adalah, an Israeli organization working for Arab Minority Rights, said that “I am surprised that you are surprised [at the lack of official Israeli statements calling for restraint or cooling the situation] – this is very consistent with Israel’s overall policy concerning Palestinians”.
Al-‘Ajou said that “For us, East Jerusalem is occupied territory … and the minute the State claimed that East Jerusalem is annexed, the people there should be protected under law and under the Geneva conventions”. And, she said, “Israel claims that there is a war between Palestinians and Israelis, but this is not supposed to include its Palestinian/Israeli Arab citizens or East Jerusalem Residents … But, for them, the residents of East Jerusalem are the same as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza”.
Residents of East Jerusalem have a niche position. Like Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, East Jerusalem Palestinians are for the most part stateless. They do have the valuable but tenuous status of “legal residents”, and they carry the important “blue” ID card conferring the right to reside, to work and to travel.
Few East Jerusalem Palestinians are full citizens of Israel. That option was more freely offered in earlier years, and while the numbers of East Jerusalem Palestinians applying for full Israeli citizenship have reportedly increased in recent months, requirements have become much more stringent. Many East Jerusalem Palestinians also have a special Jordanian passport of limited duration which permits travel, but which does not actually mean real citizenship.
Al-‘Ajou said that Adalah had not yet taken any action concerning the family house in Jabel Mukaber: “As far as I know, there is no decision (yet) to destroy the house – but given the statements that have been made by various senior Israeli government officials, she expects there will be – “And at that time we will deal with it.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) did, however, do something. Melanie Takefman, ACRI’s International Communication Coordinator, said that a letter had been sent to Minister for Internal Security Avi Dichter last Thursday, saying that destruction of the house would be a violation of the family’s basic rights, including their right to dignity – and, as a measure of collective punishment, would also be a violation of international law. There has not been any response, Takefman said, but the house has not been destroyed – and for that, she said, ACRI is happy.
YNet reported on Sunday, before the demonstration, that “the political and legal arenas continue to engage in the question whether the terrorist’s house should be destroyed. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he supported the demolition of the house, and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter issued an order for its demolition. However, Colonel (res.) Ilan Katz, the former deputy chief military prosecutor, told Ynet that ‘there would be a legal difficulty in destroying the house, due to a decision made by a military committee in 2005 that the effectiveness of the deterrence in such cases has worn out’.”
Adalah senior attorney Orna Kohen said in a phone interview with this reporter on Monday: “I agree with you that the situation is very dangerous. There is ongoing incitement, but this is nothing new, and the Israeli political leadership is staying silent, and by that is giving legitimacy to the incitement”.
Despite the promises made in the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and despite Israel’s ratification of a number of international human rights conventions, Kohen said, “There is the reality – there is not just incitement, or the silence of the politicians, but also active actions, such as the reality of discrimination based on ethnicity, since Day One, and it doesn’t get much better”.
In addition, Kohen explained, “There is a legal authority which enables the government, under defense regulations kept since the Mandatory period, to ‘confiscate or to destroy a house’. This is under Article 119 of the 1945 Time of Emergency regulations which apply both in Israel and in the occupied territory – and, yes, there is still an on-going state of emergency, ever since 1948, and this is renewed by the Knesset every year. In this case, it would be the GOC Home Front Commander Major General Ya’ir Golan, who has the power to make the decision to destroy the Jebal Mukaber home”.
So, she said, “To the question ‘Is there authority?’, the answer is Yes – a very terrible one, which allows a very drastic and undemocratic and unjust measure”.
Kohen noted, however that this the destruction of homes under this measure (as distinct from house demolitions due to supposed to violations of administrative requirements to have proper building permits which are extremely difficult to obtain in the first place) has not been done for many years in Israel, except, she said, sometimes in East Jerusalem – while there has been massive use of this regulation to destroy homes in the West Bank.
House demolitions such as the one in Bethlehem immediately after the attack on the yeshiva was justified by saying it was part of a military operation, Kohen explained, as when the IDF was trying to arrest a suspect, or as part of a “targeted killing” – and this, she said. “would be an administrative measure”.
However, she emphasized, “it is not supposed to be used as a punishment, but only as a preventive measure”. And therein lies the probable present dilemma for Israeli decision-makers, she speculated, because in 2005 “an IDF military expert committee reported that house demolition is not effective, because it is not really working as a preventive measure”. So, Kohen said, it would be difficult for the military to say now it is destroying a house as a preventive measure “after their own experts said it does not prevent anything”.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has (still) said nothing.
Asked about the apparent absence of condemnation by the Israeli leadership of the vigilante threats made by the demonstrators to take matters into their own hands, Prime Minister Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev told this reporter that the Prime Minister had indeed made a statement at the beginning of the first weekly cabinet meeting (on 9 March) held after the attack on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva – but before the demonstrators announced their plans. That statement, however, which is posted on the Prime Minister’s website, does not however make any apparent appeal for calm and public order.
Regev said that of course it is clear that the Prime Minister is totally opposed to vigilante action, or any attempts by anyone to take the law into their own hands.
And, Regev also said, the Prime Minister didn’t need to speak out on the planned demonstration, because “it was a police matter”.
But former police officials have said the police handling of the demonstration was inadequate.
According to Haaretz: “Former Jerusalem district police commander Mickey Levy criticized the police force for failing to prevent the confrontation. He told Army Radio Monday that it is inconceivable that the police was taken by surprise with a demonstration that was advertised well in advance on posters across Jerusalem … Appropriate preparation was called for in order to prevent the violent demonstration’, Levy said in an interview”.
YNet reported that “Former commanders of the Jerusalem District police harshly criticized Monday the police’s poor treatment of Sunday’s riots …”There was enough time to prepare for the events in Jabel Mukaber and it was clear to everyone what was going to happen,” retired police commander Arieh Amit stated. “This incident was simply poorly handled.” Amit slammed claims by police officials that forces were “surprised by the intensity of the riots,” pointing to the fact that the protestors published their intentions to march on the neighborhood beforehand. “Yesterday’s failure reflects a combination of a lack of experience and a lack of motivation on the officers’ part,” he stated. According to the former police commander, “In recent years right-wing activists have accumulated ‘operational experience,’ many of them served in elite units, they are familiar with the security forces’ way of thinking and manage to outsmart them.”
And, the Jerusalem Post wrote that “Another former Jerusalem police chief, retired Commander Mickey Levy, was also astonished to hear of the police’s poor preparedness for the violence. ‘This is unlike the Jerusalem District, which has immense experience in preparing for demonstrations. This is the city where the greatest number of rallies is being held, and the officers should have plenty of experience… I sincerely hope that an operational inquiry will be launched to examine the events’. Levy warned that permitting riots of this nature to develop ‘is simply unthinkable. This would lead us to anarchy, we cannot allow it’.”