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Guest blog

East Jerusalem: who is responsible for the violence?

Tali Nir describes the violence and discrimination against Palestinians in East Jerusalem and argues that a new approach is needed to ensure that the rights of all residents are respected.

When the topic of East Jerusalem comes up, for many of us the first association is violence. Whether we picture Palestinian children throwing stones or Israeli security forces shooting tear gas, violence always seems to boil over in this area.

Against this backdrop, Silwan neighbourhood resident Samir Sarhan was shot and killed by an Israeli security guard in September. As could be expected, furious demonstrations staged by Silwan residents were met with harsh police reactions.

During a tear-gas attack against the demonstrators, Muhammad Abu-Shara, a 14-month old baby, died in his Isawiya home. His parents claimed that gas seeped through his window and choked him to death. While the guard thought to be responsible for the shooting was put under house arrest a few hours after the incident, many Palestinian adults and children have been arrested in this neighbourhood in the following weeks; many have been held in detention for days.

These events – which ended in discriminatory enforcement of the law – were difficult but not surprising to those of us who know the policies in East Jerusalem and the everyday life of residents there.

A report that we at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published recently, entitled Unsafe Space, details the many ways in which the presence of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods impacts the lives of Palestinians.

Discriminatory law enforcement means that settlers who live in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods or who are suspected of violent crimes are almost never tried in court. Housing Ministry guards have turned into a Jewish-only policing force, while the Jerusalem Police, who are in charge of everyone's security, have been primarily protecting the Jewish residents and thus fanning the flames even more.

In the political struggle for control over East Jerusalem, with the authorities visibly siding with the settlers and political associations that wish to “Judaize” Palestinian neighbourhoods, it is the personal security of its Palestinian residents that suffers.

A parallel reality exists in East Jerusalem of which the Israeli public is largely unaware. Increasing numbers of residents report that they and their children have been subjected to violence by Jewish settlers, private security guards, police officers, and recently even Israeli soldiers sent into the neighbourhood. They speak of serious physical attacks involving firearms, and indiscriminate targeting of the entire population, not just criminal suspects.

Nothing can justify the throwing of stones, or any kind of violence for that matter - whether by civilians or police, guards or soldiers. Violence is not a solution; it merely breeds more violence. While it has potential to break the spirits of some, others might seek even harsher retaliation. It is the authorities' responsibility to realise this and find alternative methods for carrying out their law enforcement duties fairly.

Serious and unbiased investigations into the deaths in Silwan and Isawiya must be launched immediately. Perpetrators of all violence must be lawfully punished. The security forces on the ground must be urgently instructed to avoid violent and provocative acts that only make tensions worse.

To achieve that, the political and executive level must show wisdom and courage to introduce policies that ensure all of East Jerusalem’s residents and their rights are fully respected.

Attorney Tali Nir is the Director of the East Jerusalem Programme and the Social and Economic Rights Department of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.