Israeli police fatally shoot Muhammad ‘Abeid, 21, in al-‘Esawiyah, East Jerusalem, without any justification; police harassment of local residents continues
Since mid-June, the police have been staging daily law enforcement and collective punishment raids in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-’Esawiyah, ostensibly in response to stone throwing by local Palestinian youths, turning residents’ lives into a nightmare. Every day, between 4:00 and 6:00 P.M., police cruisers arrive at the neighborhood’s western entrance and stop residents returning home in their cars. The officers check ID cards, perform harassing car searches, give traffic tickets on a wholesale scale, often for minor infractions, and cause long traffic jams. During the first two weeks, officers came to the neighborhood in the mornings as well, between 9:00 and 11:00 A.M., and in addition to writing tickets, they went to homes, served demolition orders and brought city staff with them to measure homes for the purpose of collecting municipal taxes.
On Thursday, 27 June 2019, at around 6:00 P.M., local residents held a protest against this police harassment. It ended at around 7:00 P.M., and about half an hour later, about ten Israel Police and Border Police officers came to a section of of al-’Esawiyah known as the ‘Abeid quarter and stopped cars for inspection. Several residents of the area gathered around, and some asked the officers to leave the neighborhood, only to be ignored. A short while later, some young men began throwing stones at the officers. The residents and some of the officers went into the yard of one of the homes. Some of the other officers remained further down the road and threw stun grenades and black sponge rounds at the youths.
At around 8:30 P.M., one of the residents in the courtyard sustained a head injury from a stone thrown by one of the youths. Some of the residents called out for them to stop, but they continued throwing stones. Muhammad ‘Abeid, 21, a resident of the neighborhood, began shooting firecrackers at the officers. At that point, an officer appeared from behind a low masonry wall in the corner of the yard and fired at least one bullet that hit ‘Abeid in the chest.
‘Abeid was about ten meters away from the shooting officer.
In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Amer ‘Aruri on 2 July 2019, ‘Omar ‘Atiyyah, 54, a resident of the neighborhood, described the events of that night:
At around 8:00 P.M., I heard from residents that the occupation forces were in the ‘Abeid neighborhood obstructing traffic. I went up to them with some other people and asked them to leave the neighborhood. The police commander told me: “I apologize, but I have orders to be here.” Some youths started throwing stones at the officers from the higher part of the road.
The other residents and I, and some of the officers too, took cover in a hidden place on the street corner. In the meantime, the youths also started shooting firecrackers, which didn’t put the occupation forces in danger. The officers threw stun grenades and fired black sponge-tipped rounds at the people throwing stones and firecrackers. I asked the officers to stop firing the stun grenades and sponge-tipped rounds. While I was talking to them, something hit me above the left ear, and I started bleeding. I don’t know what it was exactly. A medic who lives in the neighborhood came and bandaged my wound.
Suddenly, I saw an officer stand up behind a low fence. He fired a bullet or two in the direction the firecrackers were coming from. I heard yelling: “They killed him!” The occupation forces advanced to where the firecrackers had been fired from, up the road, and the other residents and I followed them. One of the officers checked the wounded guy and said he was dead.
In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Amer ‘Aruri on 30 June 2019, ‘A.‘A, 52, a resident of the neighborhood, said:
On Thursday, at around 7:30 P.M., the occupation forces raided the ‘Abeid neighborhood. There were about ten armed officers there. They pulled over cars and checked IDs. Stones were thrown at the officers, and some residents asked them to leave the neighborhood and leave al-’Esawiyah altogether, but they refused. As the stone-throwing continued, some other residents and I and also police officers took cover from the stones in a distant corner. The officers started lobbing stun grenades at the stone throwers.
While one of the residents tried to calm things down, he got hit in the head by a stone. Some of the residents and I started shouting to the youths to stop throwing stones so we could take the man to hospital. They didn’t, and, in the end, he got first aid where we were. After that, one of them started shooting firecrackers at the officers who had taken cover. I stood with some other men from the neighborhood near the officers, and we called out to the youths to stop. Then, I heard one live bullet go off and saw one of the officers hiding behind a low fence in a firing position. All of a sudden, the officers advanced about ten meters, and I and everyone else followed them. I saw a guy lying on his back. One of the officers checked his neck for a pulse and announced he was dead. He was bleeding from the chest. The officers wouldn’t let us go near him. Some were pointing their guns at us, and others were firing in the air.
At that point, the officers attacked a neighborhood resident who was standing near ‘Abeid. A few minutes later, some youths started throwing stones in that direction, and a few residents used the opportunity to carry ‘Abeid away from there. The officers pursued them and tried to stop them from taking ‘Abeid, but the residents managed to get him into a private car that drove off. When the car had gone about 150 meters, near al-‘Arba’in Mosque, two Border Police jeeps and a police cruiser stopped it and took ‘Abeid at gunpoint. The officers put him in an ambulance that had arrived and violently pushed Muhammad Abu al-Hummus, a resident of the neighborhood, who wanted to go with him. ‘Abeid was taken to Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Then, when Abu al-Hummus came to the hospital and, with two other local residents, tried to approach ‘Abeid’s body, he was attacked and beaten by officers. His brothers took him to al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, where he received treatment and was discharged after two hours.
The police kept ‘Abeid’s body for four days, and only then allowed his funeral to take place, subject to posting a NIS 50,000 bond and provided that no Palestinian flags would be raised at the funeral, no firecrackers or shots in the air fired, and no masked men would attend. After the funeral, the bond money was returned to the family.
In the days following ‘Abeid’s killing, police and neighborhood residents clashed daily, when officers repeatedly entered the neighborhood, partly to take down flags that had been put up on the streets, tear down posters commemorating ‘Abeid in the mourning tent and remove a stone memorial plaque put up at the spot where he was killed. Dozens of youths were injured by sponge-tipped rounds and teargas inhalation during these clashes. In one instance, some youths set fire to the neighborhood’s community center. The police raided al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem looking for individuals injured in the incident, with officers going from room to room, disturbing patients and their families. They even threatened a member of the hospital staff that they would arrest him if he got in the way of their searches. After a two-hour search, the officers left the hospital without making any arrests. According to OCHA’s (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) civilian protection database, from the time ‘Abeid was killed until 8 July 2019, the police arrested 65 residents of al-’Esawiyah, including at least one minor.
The officers who shot Muhammad ‘Abeid were equipped with protective gear, and they faced no real danger. The shooting was, therefore, unjustified and unlawful. Still, as in hundreds of past cases, the odds that anyone responsible for the killing – from the shooting officer all the way up the chain of command – will be held accountable are slim to none. Israel’s well-oiled whitewashing machine is not the only reason for this. The aggressive conduct by the police immediately after the killing – from the assault on the residents who tried to give ‘Abeid first aid, through snatching his body and the draconian demands made in exchange for returning it, raiding the hospital in search of injured individuals, to the repeated incursions into the neighborhood in the subsequent days in a determined attempt to quell any show of mourning – all demonstrate that the police were confident there was no flaw in their actions.
The police harassment of al-’Esawiyah residents, including ‘Abeid’s killing, did not take place in a vacuum, without a context. It is an inseparable part of Israel’s policy in East Jerusalem pursued with the objective of securing a demographic majority for Jews in the city. This goal is pursued in part by devoting resources and efforts to making life in the city unbearable for Palestinians, so that they will leave, ostensibly of their own will.