ACRI petitions to restrict private security firms in J'lem

Organization claims police should be doing security work in east Jerusalem, not ‘biased, unsupervised’ security guards.

Border Police forces 311 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Border Police forces 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
In a petition filed with the High Court of Justice on Monday, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded that the Construction and Housing Ministry stop using private security guards in east Jerusalem to protect Jewish residents.
The petition claims that the presence of security guards is unlawful and should be the responsibility of the Jerusalem police rather than a private contracting company.
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Roughly 350 private security guards from the Modiin 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 the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and Silwan. The armed guards are responsible for regular patrols around Jewish apartments, securing Jewish residents’ entrance and exit to their homes, and escorting the children to school in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
There are approximately 2,000 Jewish residents living in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Places such as the Beit Yehonatan apartment building in Silwan, home to seven Jewish families, have become tense flashpoints for stone throwing and verbal abuse between the Jewish and Arab neighbors.
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.
“The state has failed to protect the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and is instead clearly and unlawfully favoring the protection of settlers who have taken up residency there,” said ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir, who wrote the petition.
“ACRI has turned to the Housing and Internal Security Ministries, as well as to the prime minister, demanding change, but what has become clear is that none of the official bodies have taken full responsibility for the work of the private security guards deployed through the Housing Ministry in East Jerusalem.”
ACRI charges that the private security guards operate with little to no supervision from the police, and are biased toward the Jewish residents. In September 2010, Silwan resident Samr Sirkhan was shot to death by a Modiin Ezrahi security guard, after the guard said that he was faced with a lynch situation during an early morning patrol. A 2010 ACRI report titled “Unsafe Space,” released before Sirkhan’s death, accused the security guards of being “quick on the trigger,” and of harassing Arab residents.
Modiin Ezrahi refused multiple requests for comment.
In 2006, the Construction and Housing Ministry appointed a committee to study whether or not the state should continue to employ private security guards.
The Public Committee to Examine the Security of Guarding Compounds in East Jerusalem, led by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uri Or, recommended transferring the security back to the police. In January 2007, the government adopted the committee’s recommendations, but the decision was never put into practice.
In early 2010, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu recommending that the security for the area be handled by a “professional body” such as the police, rather than the ministry, which is not equipped to handle security issues.
The Jerusalem police and the Construction and Housing Ministry refused to comment.
Ateret Cohanim, an organization that supports roughly 1,000 Jewish residents in Arab parts of the Old City as well as the residents of Beit Yehonatan in Silwan, defended the use of private security guards.
“You need to have security that is hands-on, given the ongoing daily attacks and given the fact that Jewish families can be easy targets for a hostile neighborhood,” said Ateret Cohanim executive director Daniel Luria.
“The professionals made a decision that the best way to protect those residents is to have a security company looking after them... based on finances and security, this is the most efficient and secure situation for these families,” he said.
Luria added that attacks against Beit Yehonatan residents have decreased by roughly 50 percent in the past four months, from an average of 150 attacks per month involving stone throwing, Molotov cocktails or other violence to a current average of around 70 attacks per month against residents. In the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, there are approximately 25 violent incidents per month against Jewish residents that the residents or the security guards report to the police.