Arrests, violence, and raids on homes: The summer of 2019 in al-‘Esawiyah in East Jerusalem
On 23 July we reported on the police harassment of residents of the al-‘Esawiyah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The campaign, which began in June, included daily law enforcement and collective punishment raids, ostensibly in response to stone throwing. During one of the raids, 21-year-old neighborhood resident Muhammad ‘Abeid was killed. Although the harassment has abated somewhat since the beginning of the school year, it still continues at varying levels of intensity.
The harassment includes daily raids on the neighborhood, detaining of residents returning from work, issuing of traffic tickets for spurious infractions, serving of house demolition orders, acts of violence, and detentions – particularly of minors.
Over the three summer months (June to August), the police arrested around 350 residents of the neighborhood, some of whom were minors. The vast majority of the detainees were released after posting bail; in some cases, they were placed under house arrest for several days. In clashes that erupted between neighborhood residents and officers from the Special Patrol Unit and the Border Police during the raids and detentions, the security forces used violence, fired black sponge-tipped rounds and teargas canisters and stun grenades, and used pepper spray.
A B'Tselem field researcher examined ten incidents in which the Special Patrol Unit officers used severe violence against neighborhood residents without any justification. Three incidents summarized briefly here will be discussed in detail below. On 28 July 2019, police officers entered the home of the ‘Abeid family and demanded to access the roof of the house. They assaulted Fadi ‘Abeid, 26, who insisted on accompanying them, beating him and throwing a stun grenade at his body, causing serious burns. On 8 August 2019, police officers raided the home of the Fakhuri family, despite having been told that the family’s children were at home alone. The officers broke down the door and arrested a boy aged 13, using severe violence, in the absence of his parents. On 12 August 2019, police officers broke into the home of the al-Masri family while the extended family was gathering for the holiday meal. They beat members of the family and fired a sponge round at one of them from just a few meters. A black sponge-tipped bullet is considered a non-lethal weapon, but it is certainly capable of killing a person when fired at close range.
The police harassment of al-’Esawiyah residents does not take place in a vacuum. It is an inseparable part of Israeli policy throughout East Jerusalem, which seeks to perpetuate 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 leave, ostensibly of their own will.
The following sections describe some of the incidents along with testimonies collected by B'Tselem field researcher Amer ‘Aruri:
The ‘Abeid Family
The family of Yusuf and Fawzeyeh ‘Abeid lives in a three-story building close to the main road. Yusuf, 70, and Fawzeyeh, 65, live on the first floor. They have ten children, and their sons Walid and Firas live on the second and third floors with their wives ‘Aishah and Hanaa and their children.
On Sunday, 28 July 2019, at about 6:00 P.M., the ‘Abeids’ son Fadi, 26, who lives elsewhere in the neighborhood, was visiting his parents. At the same time, the police raided the neighborhood and youths threw stones at the officers, who responded by firing stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets.
At a certain point, six Special Patrol Unit officers came to the family home and demanded to go up to the roof of the building. When Fadi ‘Abeid insisted on accompanying them, five police officers attacked him and beat him. The family members stepped in and one of the police officers pepper sprayed them. Three members of the family were injured in the eyes by the gas: Muhammad, 21, Fadi’s nephew, who suffered severe pain; Hanaa, 27; and ‘Aishah, 38, his sisters-in-law. In the meantime, the police officers had removed Fadi from the home. As they were about to lead him to their jeep, one of the officers threw a stun grenade that hit Fadi in the back, exploding and causing serious burns [view image]. A police officer who was standing nearby was also injured.
In a testimony taken on 30 July 2019, Fadi ‘Abeid, married and father of two, described the events of that evening:
The Special Patrol Unit officers raided the stairwell in our family home, in order to climb up to the roof. I told them that the roof was locked and that I would open it, but an argument broke out because they didn’t want me to go with them. At some point my father told me to go inside, and as I was about to do so, five Special Patrol Unit officers attacked me from behind and began to beat me. My nephew Muhammad and my two sisters-in-law ‘Aishah and Hanaa tried to stop the officers from attacking me, but they went on beating me with their fists and kicking me. Then one of them pepper sprayed the room.
After they pepper sprayed and took control of all of us, they tied my hands behind my back and took me outside. While I was outside, and before they took me to the jeep, I heard an explosion and felt a burning-hot object hit me on my back. I fell down and started to shout out in pain. The Special Patrol Unit officers lifted me up and put me in the detention vehicle. They drove quickly to the entrance to the neighborhood, next to the gas station by the French Hill. A police officer there treated me with some substance and then an Israeli ambulance took me to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.
I was in the emergency room from seven o’clock in the evening until six o’clock the next morning. The whole time I was chained to the bed and the police officers refused to allow my family to visit me.
At seven o’clock in the morning, they took me to the police station near the post office on Salah a-Din Street. The officers accused me of disrupting police work, assaulting police officers and throwing stones. I objected to their decision to put me under house arrest for five days, remove me from the al-‘Esawiyah neighborhood, and have me post bail of 5,000 shekels. My lawyer intervened, and then the police changed the decision to five days’ house arrest and bail of 5,000 shekels, without removing me from al-‘Esawiyah.
Amer ‘Aruri spoke to Fadi ‘Abeid again on 4 September 2019. He stated that he was still suffering from blurred vision because of the pepper spray the police officers had used. He added that he was waiting to see an eye doctor and would need plastic surgery on his back because of the burns.
In a testimony taken on 27 September 2019, ‘Aishah ‘Abeid, 38, married and mother of four, also described the events of that evening:
Yesterday, at about six o’clock in the evening, I was at home when I heard shouting in the stairwell. I opened the door and went downstairs, and then I saw Special Patrol Unit officers entering my father-in-law Yusuf’s apartment. In the meantime, my sister-in-law Hanaa, who lives on the third floor, also arrived.
I saw five Special Patrol Unit officers beating my husband’s brother Fadi. They were kicking him and beating him with their hands. My son Muhammad, 21, Hanaa and I tried to stop them attacking Fadi.
Suddenly I felt pepper spray on my face. Muhammad began to shout and put his hands over his eyes. Hanaa also began to feel her face. At this point, they arrested Fadi and took him outside. I went over to look after Muhammad, who was lying on the floor and shouting in pain. In the meantime, a first aid worker arrived and treated Muhammad. At about eight o’clock in the evening, Muhammad went to the eye hospital with other members of the family because he was still in pain and his vision was blurred. They treated him and he came back home.
The Fakhuri Family
Riham Fakhuri, 32, and Waael Fakhuri, 39, live with their seven children on the second floor of a two-story building that includes four apartments, close to the main road in the ‘Abeid neighborhood.
At about 1:00 P.M. on Thursday, 8 August 2019, the parents went out to run some errands for the holiday. They left the children at home with the apartment an building doors locked as they were concerned over the frequent police raids on homes in the neighborhood.
At about 2:00 P.M., Salah, 13, called his parents and told them that police officers were trying to break into the building and were demanding that he open the door to the building. His parents told him to throw his cell phone out of the window to a neighbor who was standing on the street near the police officers. The parents told the neighbor to explain to the police officers that they were on their way home and to ask them to wait. The neighbor relayed the request to the officers, but they ignored it and broke down both the building door and the family’s apartment door. They raided the apartment while the children were in it on their own, and detained Salah, 13, in the absence of his parents.
In a testimony taken on 19 August 2019, Salah Fakhuri, 13, described what happened on that day:
While I was sitting in my bedroom playing on my cell phone, my little brothers came running in and told me that they’d seen police officers through the window trying to break down the entrance door to our building.
I went to the window and asked our neighbor, Muhammad ‘Abeid, who lives next door, to tell the police officers that there was no-one at home except for me and my brothers, and that we didn’t have a key. The neighbor suggested that I talk with my parents. I called them, and they asked me to give the phone to the neighbor. Then they talked with him and told him to ask the officers to wait for ten minutes until arrived. The neighbor asked the officers to wait, but they broke down the door to the building. Then they started to bang on the door to our home, demanding that I open it. I told them that I didn’t have a key, and then they broke the lock on the door and burst in. My brothers screamed in panic and ran into the bedrooms to hide.
About four police officers broke in. One of them grabbed me by the neck and pushed my head into the sofa. Then he hit me on the head with something hard – I think it was a gas canister. I was really scared. They pushed my hands in front of me and tied them up with zip ties. Then they took me outside while my little brothers were screaming and crying.
The police officers put me in a Special Patron Unit vehicle. They didn’t attack me while I was in the vehicle. Two officers sat next to me. Then the car stopped at the al-‘Esawiyah gas station, and they moved me into a jeep and replaced the zip ties with metal hand cuffs. There were two offices in the jeep. They didn’t attack me, but one of them said, “What pity, you’ll be spending your holiday in prison.” I felt really bad that I wouldn’t be with my family for the holiday.
They took me to the police station next to the post office on Salah a-Din Street (Shalem Station) and put me in a room. A police officer came and asked me for my father’s phone number. He called my father and told him to come to the station. They held me in that room for two hours. Then, ten minutes before they took me in for interrogation, a lawyer came and spoke to me.
It was only after I spoke with the lawyer that they let me drink water and go to the bathroom. They took the handcuffs off me and took me for interrogation. There was a woman in civilian clothing in the interrogation room. She told me they had video footage taken by a police drone that showed me standing on the roof of the building where I live two days earlier and throwing stones at the police. She showed me a video clip where I can be seen standing watching the road. I remember that someone threw stones and they landed on the roof where I was standing. But I didn’t throw any stones – maybe other people did. I explained this to the interrogator.
The interrogation went on for about an hour. My father arrived after it had finished. He refused to sign the release document, in which they demanded that we post bail of 500 shekels and sign a guarantee for 5,000 shekels. The document also said that I would be under house arrest for one week.
After the interrogation they took me into another room where I sat on a chair. After about an hour and a half, my father came in and took me away from the police station. They reduced the house arrest to four days and removed the financial guarantee.
It wasn’t easy for me to stay imprisoned in my home and to watch the other children playing in the street from the window, while I wasn’t allowed to play and be happy.
In a testimony taken on 19 August 2019, Salah’s mother Riham Fakhuri, 32, married and mother of seven, stated:
At one o’clock, my husband and I went shopping and left the children at home with my oldest son Salah. Suddenly, at about two o’clock, Salah called and said that police officers were trying to break into the building. We asked him to throw the phone out of the window to our neighbor, Muhammad ‘Abeid, who lives next door. My husband spoke to him and asked him to speak to the police officers and ask them to wait for ten minutes until we got home, so that we could open the door ourselves.
When my husband and I got home, we found the children crying and frightened, especially the youngest ones, Rital and Ibrahim, who are four and seven. I found them both hiding in the bedroom, shaking with fear. They told me that as soon as the door to the home was broken down, and the police officers raided the house, they both ran into the bedroom and pretended to be sleeping. I found out the police officers had detained Salah and taken him away.
I hugged the children and tried to calm them. They told me that the police officers were inside the apartment for about five minutes, and then they went out, taking Salah with them. The house itself wasn’t a mess and they hadn’t searched it.
Not long after we got home, the police called my husband and told him that Salah was detained at the police station next to the post office on Salah a-Din Street (Shalem station). They asked him to go there.
My husband went to the police station and waited from three o’clock until nine o’clock at night before they let him in. He wasn’t there while they were interrogating Salah. At first, they wanted us to post bail of 500 shekels and sign for another 5,000 shekels, and they wanted to put Salah under house arrest for a week. But after the lawyer intervened, they cancelled the guarantee and reduced the house arrest to four days. Salah is finishing his house arrest on the first day of the ‘Id al-Adha holiday, 11 August 2019, at six o’clock in the morning.
When Salah got home, at about eleven o’clock at night, he was pale and exhausted. He was very hungry because they hadn’t given him anything to eat at the police station. I made him some food.
None of us managed to sleep that night. We stayed awake until the morning. It was a real shock and we were all tense. There’s supposed to be happy atmosphere now for the holiday. Everyone’s getting their homes ready for the holiday, buying food and clothes. The police officers took away our holiday joy.
The al-Masri Family:
The extended al-Masri family lives in the ‘Abeid neighborhood in a four-story building, the ground floor of which houses a large parking garage. The family often holds meals on special occasions in the spacious parking garage.
At about 6:00 P.M. on Monday, 12 August 2019, some fifty members of the family, around half of them children, gathered in the building’s parking garage for the festive dinner. During the meal, a black sponge-tipped bullet struck one of the walls of the garage. Karim al-Masri, 32, went to check what was happening and saw six Special Patrol Unit officers running toward the parking garage. He advanced toward the officers in an attempt to speak with them and explain that this was a private area and the family was sitting down for the holiday meal. One of the officers struck him with his rifle and fired a black sponge-tipped bullet at him from a range of just a few meters. The bullet hit the upper part of Karim’s left thigh [view image]. Another officer pushed him to the ground. The officer who had fired the bullet attempted to fire another bullet at Karim from zero range, but in the meantime other members of the family arrived. When Karim’s sister, Walaa al-Masri, 31, threw herself on top of her brother to prevent the officer from shooting, the officers attacked her and other family members who tried to protect him, beating them with their hands and rifle butts.
In a testimony taken on 19 August 2019, Karim al-Masri, 32, married and father of three, described what happened:
We are six brothers and two sisters, and we’re all married with children. We were sitting in the parking garage of the family building when we heard a shot. I was worried about the children, who were playing in the entrance to the building, so I advanced toward the police officers and tried to speak to them. After the police officers attacked me and one of them fired a black sponge-tipped bullet at me, he tried to fire another shot. My sister Walaa threw herself on top of me to stop them shooting.
The officers attacked my sister and my other siblings. In the meantime, neighbors had also gathered around. After about five minutes, the officers stopped beating us. My family took me inside and we closed the main door – the officers had called for reinforcements and we were afraid they were going to raid the building. There were over twenty armed officers there.
Later, the neighbors told us that the police officers had entered the building, claiming that stones had been thrown from the area. I didn’t see any stone throwing.
After the officers left the building I went to al-Muqassed Hospital. They treated me and I was released after two hours. My sister Walaa had also been beaten by the officers and she came to hospital, too.
In a testimony taken on 19 August 2019, Walaa al-Masri, 31, married and mother of four, stated:
While my brother was lying on the ground, I saw one of the officers trying to fire another black sponge-tipped bullet at him from zero range. I threw myself on top of my brother to defend him. My other brothers also intervened and came between us and the officers. The officers beat us all with their rifles and kicked us.
The attack lasted for about five minutes. In the meantime, neighbors gathered, and in response, the officers moved away a little and stopped hitting us. We ran inside the building and locked the door. My brother Karim went to the hospital to get treatment, and about two hours later, I also went because I was in a lot of pain and I had bruises on my body, especially on my left thigh, which had turned blue. My right knee was also hurting a lot. At the hospital they put ointment on me to soothe the pain and gave me pain killers.
The attack had a strong affect on the family. It was a hard night for all of us and we didn’t manage to sleep. My little children also didn’t sleep that night because they were scared. They woke up in the middle of the night and came into my bedroom.