Israel Police chief: Despite public fears, less violence in Jerusalem than last year

With violence and tension gripping Jerusalem, police have no plans to scale back their deployment of more than 2,000 extra police officers in the city in the months to come.

Police at a security barricade in the Old City of Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Police at a security barricade in the Old City of Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With the Israeli media and public grappling with the question of whether they are witnessing the beginning of a third intifada, Israel’s acting police commissioner noted Tuesday that the statistics reveal that four Israelis have lost their lives due to violence in the capital this year, compared to 12 by this time in 2014.
“I don’t want to rely on statistics. It’s obvious that the public is suffering from a very serious blow to its feeling of security, especially in Jerusalem, but it is important that we focus on the facts,” said Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
With violence and tension gripping Jerusalem, police have no plans to scale back their deployment of more than 2,000 extra officers in the city in the months to come.
Sau described the reinforcements as including eight platoons of Border Police officers, including 300 operating within predominantly Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
The deployment includes officers from all of the specialized police undercover and anti-terrorism units, he added.
For the past 10 days, police have limited the age of Muslim worshipers allowed onto the Temple Mount, and have extended their jurisdiction in order to obtain restraining orders banning rioters and other Palestinians from the rest of the Old City.
Sau said that he is keenly aware that images of police raids on the Temple Mount to stop rioters barricaded in al-Aksa Mosque “can lead to rioting and harm the political relations with Israel and neighboring countries, in particular Jordan.”
After a number of Murabitat and Murabitun protesters were banned from the Temple Mount in recent weeks, they took to the alleyways of the city to harass Jewish worshipers on their way to the Western Wall, Sau said. A number of incidents that were caught on film went viral on Israeli social media.
Sau recounted some of the new tactics put into effect by police during the current escalation of violence, such as compilation of lists of Temple Mount rioters. Agitators from outside of Jerusalem – for instance the Galilee or the Negev – are now placed under the supervision of officers from the police station nearest to their home towns, who then are responsible for preventing them from reaching the Temple Mount.
Police are now deployed at every entrance to the Old City, and the revised strategy includes sending police into Arab areas to initiate contact with rioters. “Instead of standing on the seam line waiting for people to attack, we are working proactively inside Jebl Mukaber, Isawiya and other neighborhoods. If this creates a clash, we are able to gather more intelligence and catch rioters in the act.”
He noted that since the police and the IDF were given the go-ahead last month to use .22 sniper rifles against rioters, police have shot and wounded 12 rioters, all in the lower body.
He expects in the coming weeks that police will take part in the demolition of homes belonging to terrorists involved in recent major attacks in the Jerusalem area. They are also beginning to investigate allegations that store owners assaulted a seriously wounded Israeli woman who was calling for help in the Old City after her husband and another Israeli man had been stabbed to death Saturday night.
With 2,000 police from across Israel sent to reinforce officers in Jerusalem, Sau said the organization is aware that there may be security gaps elsewhere that attackers could exploit. Sau said police are stepping up efforts to locate Arabs residing in Israel without permits, and are running checkpoints and other security checks across the country for this purpose.
He also said that despite the focus on Jerusalem, the police will continue to pursue all of their major investigations, in particular the arrests of dozens of organized crime figures in the south on Tuesday morning. He added that all investigations by the LAHAV 433 National Crime Unit branch are continuing, and have not been halted due to the manpower shifted to Jerusalem.
Sau said that the 2,000 officers will continue their deployment for the near future, comparing it to a military call-up of sorts.
He said the officers live in cities across Israel and are on average in their mid-30s with families that they are leaving behind for extended periods of time to patrol in Jerusalem.
He added that police have received “everything we’ve asked for” from the government, including the ability to use .22 sniper rifles against rioters and the use of more advanced gear, such as night-vision equipment.
In the meantime, deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Roni Alsheich has been named to become Israel’s new inspector- general of police, replacing Yohanan Danino.