Court to hear petition against state funding of private security for Jews in east Jerusalem

The ACRI petition alleges that security guards employed by the state represent a de facto “private police force.”

Jerusalem skyline 370  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem skyline 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Over two years after receiving a petition demanding an end to nearly NIS 70 million in annual government funding for private security guards to protect Jewish residents of east Jerusalem, the High Court will hold a second hearing Tuesday to review the case.
The petition, filed in October 2011 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on behalf of Palestinian residents, alleges that the security guards employed by the state for the past 10 years represent a de facto “private police force,” exclusively serving Jewish residents.
According to the petition, an annual budget of NIS 67m. allocated by the Construction and Housing Ministry unconstitutionally compensates roughly 370 private security guards in the state’s employ to protect approximately 2,500 Jews living in the contested areas.
Moreover, the petition contends that Palestinian residents living near the Jewish neighborhoods are entitled to the same level of security, adding that the present policy has resulted in two Palestinian deaths and numerous injuries at the hands of the guards.
The High Court will review the petition for a second time, following an initial hearing in December 2012 during which it asked the state to explain why the Construction and Housing Ministry – and not the Internal Security Ministry – has the authority to oversee such security arrangements.
The court also requested that authority granted to the private security contractors, all of whom are armed, be reevaluated.
While ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir, who filed the petition, concedes that the Jewish residents are entitled to protection, she said the state must provide an equal measure of protection for their Arab counterparts.
“Unlike the police, which are responsible for keeping public order and obligated to act for the benefit of all residents without discriminating, the settlers’ armed guards, funded by taxpayers, are committed only to the defense of one party in the tense reality of east Jerusalem,” she said.
During a Monday phone interview, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) dismissed as “ridiculous” the notion that Arabs living in east Jerusalem are in need of protection equal to that afforded to Jewish residents.
“We all know that dogs bite human beings, but human beings do not bite dogs,” he added. “What this petition is trying to do is claim the opposite, and I hope even the Israeli High Court will understand how ridiculous this claim is.”
While Feiglin said the constitutionality of allocating government funds for private companies to protect Jewish residents living in east Jerusalem raised “an interesting question,” he emphasized that such protection is unequivocally necessary.
“It’s a ridiculous claim because if you measure the number of Arabs that were stabbed or slaughtered by Jews in east Jerusalem it will show zero,” he said.
“But we know of many Jews there who have been stabbed by Arabs.”
Feiglin continued, “We’re nowhere near the point where Arabs need the same protection as Jews.”
Meanwhile, Meretz city councilman Dr. Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, said Monday that the question of which ministry allocates the funds is irrelevant. Instead, he asserted, the issue should be the legality of the government paying private security guards only for Jews.
“It’s a private militia that works for the settlers and right-wingers,” said Margalit of the guards. “This is what we have to stop – not change where the money comes from.”
Citing two Palestinian deaths at the hands of the guards over the past two years, Margalit said it is reasonable for the government to also allocate private security for Arabs living near the Jewish neighborhoods.
“I think that if the settlers have private guards, the state also must pay for private guards for Arabs living there,” he said. “The deaths prove there is a danger for Palestinians.”
The second hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.