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Police security escort during the demolition of a home in Silwan uses violence against family members

Ruins of Hashem and ‘Iz Abu Khaled’s apartments, Silwan, East Jerusalem. Photo: ‘Amer ‘Aruri, B’Tselem, 2 June 2015
Ruins of Hashem and ‘Iz Abu Khaled’s apartments, Silwan, East Jerusalem. Photo: ‘Amer ‘Aruri, B’Tselem, 2 June 2015

The thirty members of the extended Abu Khaled family live in the Wadi Hilwa neighborhood, East Jerusalem, in a building that has four apartments. Ahead of the upcoming weddings of two young members of the family, Hashem Abu Khaled and his cousin ‘Iz Abu Khaled, both 23, the family set out to build two more apartments.

Getting a building permit in a Palestinian neighborhood is next to impossible, due to the policies practiced by the Israeli authorities. Nevertheless, the family did apply to the municipality for building permits, but they were denied. Left with no other choice, the family started building without a permit in 2014. The plot of land on which the Abu Khaled family home stands belongs to the Islamic Waqf, as does the land where the new apartments were built. The structure’s frame was finished in October 2014. In November 2014, an inspector with the Israel Antiquities Authority came to the site and informed the family that they must cease construction immediately. The family stopped the work and hired a lawyer, hoping to get permission to build the apartments. On 28 March 2015, the family’s lawyer was informed that the application for building permits had been denied and that they must see to the demolition of the structures by 1 May 2015. When the family did not demolish the structures, Jerusalem Municipality officials came to demolish the structure on 15 May 2015 but were unsuccessful due to technical difficulties.

At around 4:00 A.M. on Tuesday, 2 June 2015, city officials again arrived at the site, equipped with a crane and bulldozers, and a police escort. As the neighborhood is densely built, the municipality’s workers used the crane to place the bulldozers near the structures. The family was woken by the noise, and went out to the yard. Hashem Abu Khaled, for whom one of the new units was intended, saw the bulldozers close to the building and went up to the roof of the house, to try to prevent the demolition. In the account he gave to B'Tselem field researcher ‘Amer ‘Aruri, Hashem Abu Khaled said that a police officer followed him up to the roof and pepper-sprayed him. Three more police officer then came up as well. They pinned him down on the roof and arrested him using violence.

Video (courtesy of the family) – police officers filmed pinning Hashem Abu Khaled to the roof

After the officers got Hashem off the roof and started leading him toward a police car, two of Hashem’s uncles approached the officers and tried to convince them to let him go. One of them, Kifah Abu Khaled, 47, described what happened when he and his brother Nidal approached the officers:

The security forces pepper-sprayed us. My brother Nidal, 48, has asthma and he fell to the ground because of the spray. When Nidal was lying on the ground, I yelled at the officers to let my nephew Hashem go. One of them pushed me back and I almost fell. Then another one slapped me and kicked me though I had done nothing.

Video (courtesy of the family) – Assault on Nidal and Kifah Abu Khaled who asked police officers not to arrest their nephew

The municipality workers remained on the site and completed the demolition of the apartments, while Hashem Abu Khaled was taken in for questioning. The interrogators accused him of assaulting the officer who had followed him up to the roof and they showed him footage they had shot. He was put under house arrest for a week, at his sister’s home in a different neighborhood, and had to post bail. After the week-long house arrest, Hashem returned to his father’s house. The officers told him they would be in touch if they needed him and directed him to file a complaint with the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) regarding his allegations of police brutality.

Palestinians find themselves forced to build without permits because Israeli authorities, including the Jerusalem Municipality and planning bodies, practice policies that prevent them from building legally, with the stated goal of maintaining a Jewish majority in the city. In Wadi Hilwa, these policies take the shape of a master plans that defines the entire neighborhood as a “special green zone” and permits no new construction.

In the incident described above, security forces used pepper-spray in breach of regulations and used excessive force against members of the family, who were forced to watch their home being demolished, a difficult experience which naturally causes resentment. The video footage illustrates that at least one member of the family was beaten despite using no violence himself. This type of conduct is not unusual. Over the last few years, B'Tselem has documented cases in which police officers pepper-sprayed Palestinian residents in contravention of regulations. In addition, although top officials condemn instances of beating and ill-treatment of Palestinians, law enforcement agencies refrain from taking any real action in these cases or bring those involved to justice. The disparity between official statements and what happens on the ground sends a message to security forces that the dignity and bodily integrity of Palestinians are forfeit and that they will not be called to task for harm to Palestinians.