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Photo by: Paelei Sheikh Jarrah
Protesters clash with police
By BEN HARTMAN
07/09/2010
Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators break through barrier.
 
Eight protesters were released from custody on Friday night, hours after they were arrested for ignoring police orders and attempting to break through a police barrier in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem.

Friday’s arrests took place as protesters attempted to protest in the Shimon Hatzadik compound, where two Arab families were evicted in August 2009 after a court ruled in favor of the Jewish owner of their building.

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Police only allow protests at a playground across a street leading to the area.

Many of the more than 250 Arab and leftwing activists said police used heavyhanded tactics to prevent them from entering the section of the neighborhood where Jews live.

It was initially reported that police had assaulted novelist David Grossman, a regular at the Friday protests. Witnesses and police denied the report, saying that Grossman was merely in the crowd of protesters that police and border policemen pushed out of the area.

The eight protesters taken into custody were ordered by the court to stay away from the protests for two weeks. Police said all eight would face criminal charges.

According to police, the protesters were arrested for ignoring the orders of officers, holding an illegal gathering, blocking traffic and trying to break a police barrier at the entrance to the street where the Jewish residents’ live.

After 17 demonstrators were arrested in Sheikh Jarrah in January, the Jerusalem District Court ruled their arrest was illegal and the protests lawful, even if they are held without a permit.

Activist Avner Inbar said Friday’s police response was one of the most severe he’d seen at the protests, and said it might have been due to a letter published earlier this month, in which more than 40 Israeli jurists, politicians, authors, and academics called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to probe allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Jerusalem police in Sheikh Jarrah.

“That might have made them angry,” Inbar said.

The letter-writers claimed that police have conducted themselves in an illegal manner in Sheikh Jarah, have violated court decisions, and enforce the law in a discriminatory manner. The letter also argues that such conduct may be the result of political bias in the Jerusalem police district.

Inbar said that as opposed to previous protests, in which police appeared to make arrests in a random fashion, police on Friday went into the crowd and arrested people they saw as leaders of the demonstrations, focusing in particular on people who had been arrested before.

Inbar said that the Sheikh Jarrah protest is not focused on the police.

“Our struggle is not against police, it’s against the settlers. The problem is that the police have taken sides,” Inbar said, adding that police follow a double standard in dealing with left-wing and right-wing protesters there.

A Jerusalem Police spokesman on Saturday denied that police sought out specific protesters to arrest. The spokesman added that police only moved in after their orders were repeatedly ignored.

“They [the activists] have their area to protest in, and they decided to go down and break into the area where the Jewish families live. We told them time and time again to leave and they refused, so we had to use reasonable force to remove them,” the spokesman said.

Around two weeks ago, construction began on the Shepherd Hotel project elsewhere in Sheikh Jarrah, which will convert the hotel into 20 housing units for Jews.

The project is the initiative of US businessman Irving Moskowitz, who owns the hotel, and has been met with criticism from the Obama administration.
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