ACRI: Arab Jerusalemites feel unsafe in their homes

Civil rights group says police enforces law selectively; residents cannot go to authorities with complaints about Jewish neighbors.

magav 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
magav 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Arab residents of east Jerusalem are subject to a variety of difficulties that make them feel unsafe in their own homes, according to an extensive report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to be released on Sunday.
ACRI highlights the main problems as selective enforcement of residents’ rights, unlawful detention of minors, little oversight of private security guards for the Jewish compounds, the use of surveillance cameras as causing an intrusion of privacy, and the seizure of neighborhood plots for Jewish construction.
The report, “Unsafe Space: The Israeli Authorities’ Failure to Protect Human Rights amid Settlements in East Jerusalem,” is based on months of testimonies by Arab residents of the area.
The residents expressed frustration that they cannot go to authorities with complaints about noise or disturbances by their Jewish neighbors because they are often viewed as the instigators of the problem and arrested.
The police’s “selective enforcement” of the law is creating an untenable living situation for the Arab residents, ACRI claims.
“The demands we’re making on the police are very practical,” spokeswoman Ronit Sela told The Jerusalem Post. “We’re asking them to obey their own rules.”
In an official response, police dismissed the document as incomplete.
“The report seems to present only a partial picture of the situation and at times is tendentious,” attorney Roman Liebovits of the Jerusalem District’s Police Legal Counsel wrote.
In addition to alleged selective police enforcement, ACRI found frequent occurrences of the unlawful detention of minors, following their removal from their homes in the middle of the night.
Israeli law stipulates that minors between the ages of 12 and 18 can be questioned only by a specially-trained child prosecutor in the presence of their parents or another relative, and is generally not allowed at night.
The presence of surveillance cameras represented an additional hardship for Arab women, ACRI found. With security cameras pointed directly into their living rooms, women were forced to wear head coverings and modest dress inside their homes as well, instead of moving about more freely.
ACRI believes the situation can be improved, most notably by using police forces instead of a private security company, which operates with little supervision and is accused by residents of being “trigger-happy.”
“With the police, we can come and demand that they treat everyone in an equal and fair manner, and we’re hoping that with enough pressure, this will be done,” said Sela. “The [private] security forces are not obligated to do what the police are obligated to do, they’re there to be a private police force for settlers. Obviously they’re supposed to be one-sided,” she added.
ACRI noted that the question of whether to employ private security guards or the police for protection of the Jewish residents was studied in a committee appointed by the construction and housing minister in 2006. The Public Committee to Examine the Security and Guarding of Compounds in East Jerusalem, led by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uri Orr, recommended using only police forces, but this was never put into practice.
The Modi’in Ezrahi (Civilian Intelligence) company was awarded the public tender to operate private security forces in east Jerusalem, the Construction and Housing Ministry said in response.
“As a rule, the situation on the ground is completely different from the one described in your report,” wrote ministry spokesman Ariel Rozenberg in an official response to ACRI. “The activities of the [private security] unit are carried out under strict supervision. The guards do not use force against residents of east Jerusalem except in extreme situations, and when there is lethal threat.
“The purpose of the unit is to allow, as much as possible, for residents’ daily routine, and for routine arrangements for tourism in east Jerusalem.