Protesters in Isawiya, east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Dozens of Arab residents from east Jerusalem’s Isawiya neighborhood gathered Thursday evening to protest the police-enforced closure of three of the village’s four entrance roads amid chronic rioting by youths living in the flashpoint community.
Bearing placards stating “Stop collective punishment,” and “No to closing streets,” the demonstrators blocked traffic to Arab vehicles attempting to enter the only remaining entrance from French Hill.
As riot officers carefully observed the protest, Shaben Abeed, 70, who has lived in Isawiya his entire life, said police harassment has become endemic to the neighborhood, and is causing the rioting.
“The police have closed two roads here for the last two years, and closed a third one two weeks ago because young people were throwing rocks,” he said. “But the police forces provoke them by entering the neighborhood, because people are very sensitive to this and see it as a violation.”
“Even if I go to the mosque to pray,” Abeed continued, “the police ask me where I’m going and demand identification.”
According to Ahmed Atrash, a 25-year-old English literature student at the Hebrew University who lived in Isawiya for a year, ongoing police harassment is indeed the cause of the rioting carried out by the neighborhood’s children.
“When the police enter the village they start harassing people by asking where they are going and force them to show ID for no reason,” he said.
“This is a form of political harassment and is what most provokes people because they feel the police force is interfering in their everyday lives, and people in east Jerusalem are very sensitive about police coming to the village.”
Moreover, Atrash contended that Isawiya is targeted by police more than other Arab neighborhoods in the capital.
“You will never see police like this in Shuafat or Beit Hanina,” he said. “People in the media are now referring to Isawiya as the Gaza of Jerusalem.”
While Atrash and Abeed readily concede that the road closures are a direct response to the youths in the community who routinely throw rocks and firebombs at police who enter it, both men say the children cannot be controlled by their parents.
“The children will not stop until the police harassment stops,” said Atrash. “The solution is very simple: Open the streets and stop entering the village for no reason and harassing people. Then they will stop.”
One 14-year-old boy from the neighborhood, who did not want to give his name, said he does not participate in the violence, but understands why his peers do.
“They [the police] enter to provoke people and it makes us angry,” he said. “I just don’t go out of my house.”
In an effort to curtail daily violence carried out by Arab youths, the Jerusalem Municipality announced on Wednesday that it would extend school hours for boys living in east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Luisa Morgantini, a former vice president of the European Parliament, said the only solution to ending the cycle of violence is for a complete police withdrawal from the area.
“People should be free to go to the village without having the road blocked,” she said, while joining dozens of other protesters in blocking the only remaining roadway to residents of the village, resulting in an extended traffic jam and a cacophony of beeping horns.
“Stop the oppression and let the people live freely. The problem is the occupation.”
Asked if the problem could be solved by stopping the children from attacking police, Morgantini said such an outcome is unlikely.
“The children feel the injustice and don’t listen to their parents because they see them being abused by police,” she said. “If the police did not come here they would not throw stones.”