Court examines use of private guards in east J'lem

Civil rights group aims to block use of private security guards by Jewish residents in Arab neighborhoods of east J'lem.

east Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
east Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 company.
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 Quarter.
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 Quarter.
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.”
An Arab resident of Silwan claimed the private guards had been given free reign.
“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 September 2010.
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 petition.
“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.