|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem|
Court examines use of private guards in east J'lem
By MELANIE LIDMAN
Civil rights group aims to block use of private security guards by Jewish residents in Arab neighborhoods of east J'lem.
The High Court of Justice heard initial arguments on Wednesday afternoon
regarding a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to block the
use of private security guards for Jewish residents who live in predominantly
Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
The petition, filed in November
2011, claims the presence of private guards is unlawful and that security should
be the responsibility of the Jerusalem police rather than a private contracting
Roughly 350 armed security guards from the Modi’in Ezrahi
company are employed in east Jerusalem.
The company won a public tender
from the Construction and Housing Ministry to provide security for Jewish
residents living in places like Silwan and the Old City’s Muslim
The guards are responsible for regular patrols around Jewish
apartments, securing Jewish residents’ as they enter and exit their homes, and
escorting their children to school in the Old City’s Jewish
During the hearing, the justices found it problematic that the
Housing Ministry had undertaken responsibility for security matters. But they
warned that the police would never do “static” guarding – maintaining a
permanent patrol in one place – something the private company does. The court is
expected to hand down its ruling in the coming weeks.
ACRI attorney Keren
Tzafir was optimistic after the court session.
“The courts understand the
problematic aspects of private security guards,” she said. “What they said was
important that the state has no right [to do this], that there is no reason why
it was done like this and no reason why it should continue.”
resident of Silwan claimed the private guards had been given free
“The Jewish [residents] are not our enemies, the soldiers are not
our enemies, just the guards are our enemy,” insisted Said Abu Saned, whose
son-in-law, Samr Sirkhan, was shot to death by a Modi’in Ezrahi guard in
The guard said he had been faced with a lynch situation
during an early morning patrol.
“They do what they want, there is no
control,” Abu Saned added.
There are approximately 2,000 Jewish residents
living in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Places such as the
heavily guarded Beit Yehonatan apartment building in Silwan, home to seven
Jewish families, have become flashpoints for stone throwing and verbal abuse
between Jewish and Arab neighbors.
A resident of Beit Yehonatan who
declined to give his name insisted that he was not concerned about the
“I don’t care,” he said. “However the state wants to
protect us, I trust them.”
The Construction and Housing Ministry budget
for private security guards in east Jerusalem has risen from NIS 7 million in
1991 to NIS 76 million in 2011, according to ACRI figures.
In early 2010,
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias sent a letter to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu recommending that security for the area be the responsibility
of a “professional body” such as the police, rather than the ministry, which is
not equipped to handle such matters.