Jaffa family to sue for excessive force in house eviction

Video taken at scene shows YASSAM police kicking, punching father of squatter family as he lays on ground; family do not appear to resist.

Evicted Jaffa family 311  (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Evicted Jaffa family 311
(photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
A Muslim family from Jaffa said Thursday it plans to file a lawsuit against the police, after officers allegedly used excessive force to evict it two days earlier from a south Tel Aviv house in which it was squatting.
In a video, a group of Yassam riot police can be seen wrestling with Sameer Kassem, 34, as he holds his four-year-old daughter.
Police kick and punch Kassem as he lays on the ground, and one officer puts his sister, a woman wearing a veil, in a headlock and throws her to the ground.
No social workers or female officers were at the scene, even though a family with young children was being evicted.
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Kassem was still nursing his wounds in Jaffa’s Hashtayim Park tent city on Thursday, where he is staying with his family. He sported two black eyes, and what he said was a broken nose and a bruised rib following the incident, which was filmed by an activist and uploaded to the Internet on Thursday.
Kassem said his family has been homeless since May, when his mother, who used to help him with his expenses, died and he could no longer pay rent. He said that he, his wife, and their five children moved to the vacant house on Salameh Street about two weeks ago after someone set their tent on fire at Hashtayim Park.
He said his children were having trouble sleeping at the tent city, especially after it rained recently. Kassem’s sister had been living at the vacant house for a few weeks and invited him to stay there with his children he added.
According to Kassem, on Tuesday they were informed by police that they would arrive in the afternoon to evict them and he decided to begin packing their belongings in the meantime.
When police finally arrived, he said he decided to take his infant and hole up in the house, hoping that maybe police would relent and allow them to stay.
“At 2:30 p.m. they arrived to evict us and I didn’t know what to do – to evacuate or to stay – so I decided to take the little girl and not leave, hoping that they would give us more time. Then four or five police came in, didn’t say anything to me, just began hitting me from all directions.”
Kassem said that police opened a charge of assaulting a police officer against him and released him on Wednesday without charges after the video was presented to the court.
He said that the rest of the children were in school when the incident happened and have not viewed the video either. The four-year-old daughter who was present however, has been suffering from trauma ever since he added.
“My daughter has been in trauma and panic ever since it happened. She has been afraid and not able to sleep.”
Kassem’s 10-year-old daughter Dunya said that she did not want to watch the video and that she was happy because no one at school had talked about it to her yet. She added that she has been doing her homework recently under a street-lamp in the park, and was very sad to return to the tent city on Tuesday.
The video was made by an activist named Haim Shwartzenberger, an activist in the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, who said he made the video through the window of the house while hiding from police.
According to a police response to the Walla! website on Thursday, police used force because Kassem “threatened to blow up the building using a gas tank and to harm his daughter. His sister threw shards of glass at police and opened the gas line. Reasonable force was used in order to rescue the daughter from her father.”