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Playing with fire: Israel’s sweeping disregard for the wellbeing and security of East Jerusalem residents has led to four fatalities and dozens of injuries, and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of residents

Following the killing of two policemen by three Israeli citizens in the Temple Mount compound (the al-Aqsa Mosque) on Friday, 14 July 2017, Israel blocked all the roads leading into Jerusalem’s Old City and closed the al-Aqsa Mosque to worshippers. On Sunday, access to the compound was restored only to worshippers who are Jerusalem residents, and only via two gates – al-Asbat and al-Majles – after metal detectors were installed there. On Friday, 21 July 2017, the police installed checkpoints at the gates to the Old City, granting entry only to Old City residents, and – among non-residents – to men over the age of 50 and to women. The police also stationed thousands of armed officers in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, chiefly in the Old City. Requiring worshippers to undergo an Israeli security inspection with metal detectors before entering the compound constitutes a violation of the traditional status quo there. The vast majority of worshippers refused to enter under these conditions, and protested by conducting prayers out on the street.

Teargas fired at worshippers immediately following prayers at Wadi al-Joz, East Jerusalem, last Friday. Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh, Activestills
Teargas fired at worshippers immediately following prayers at Wadi al-Joz, East Jerusalem, last Friday. Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh, Activestills

The harsh measures instituted by the authorities led to harsh consequences: four Palestinians were killed and over one hundred demonstrators were injured by police. A few hours after the incidents of 21 July in Jerusalem, a Palestinian perpetrated a stabbing attack in the settlement of Halamish, killing three Israeli civilians and injuring another.

Testimonies gathered by B’Tselem as well as video footage published in the media indicate that the police used excessive and unjustified force against the worshippers. B’Tselem’s investigation shows that in at least one instance during Friday noon prayers in the Ras al-‘Amud area of East Jerusalem police began firing crowd control means as soon as the prayers ended. According to the Red Cross, between Friday, 14 July 2017 and Sunday, 23 July 2017, approximately 120 persons were taken to Jerusalem hospitals to be treated for various injuries: tear-gas inhalation, gunshot wounds from rubber-coated metal bullets, other physical trauma. At least two people were injured by direct hits from stun grenades and teargas canisters, one was hit in the eye by a rubber-coated metal bullet, and one was injured by shrapnel from a stun grenade.

In addition, on Friday police raided al- Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, fired stun grenades and teargas in the yard outside the hospital and used violence against the medical staff, hospital employees, and visitors. In at least one case, the officers disrupted the medical treatment of a seriously injured person. Such actions are entirely unjustified.

During these recent events, Israel has repeatedly demonstrated sweeping disregard for the lives and security of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and for their right to maintain a normal routine. The Israel Police treated Palestinian residents as if they were enemy soldiers, rather than as a civilian population for whose wellbeing and security it is responsible. This conduct is part of the way Israel controls East Jerusalem: Israeli authorities view the Palestinian residents as an undesirable presence, people who are worth less, with all this implies, including the use of lethal force. Nothing but comprehensive and substantive change to this regime of control, and to the reality in Jerusalem, will ensure the human rights of all the people living in the city.