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Jerusalem faces largest surge in arrests since 2nd Intifada

Aug. 27, 2014 9:25 A.M. (Updated: April 28, 2015 8:35 A.M.)
By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian communities in Jerusalem are experiencing the largest upsurge in detentions since the Second Intifada, with a marked increase in Israeli police brutality and the collective punishment of entire neighborhoods, local organizations say.

The mass detentions began following widespread demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shufat after the murder of teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir on July 2.

Since then, over 770 Palestinians have been detained in East Jerusalem, according to Addameer prisoner rights group.

The arrests in Jerusalem took place parallel to a wide-reaching detention campaign in the West Bank, which saw between 800-1,000 Palestinians detained following the kidnapping of three Israeli youths on June 12.

Although the majority have been released, police brutality, the bail conditions set for detainees and a system of closures on Palestinian areas have made life difficult for individuals and whole neighborhoods alike.

Around 70 Palestinians detained are still in police custody, with many transferred to detention cells in Lod after the Russian Compound in Jerusalem reached full capacity.

"It's collective punishment for all Jerusalem residents," Mahmoud Qaraeen from the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan told Ma'an.

"The clashes and demonstrations following the killing of (Muhammad) Abu Khdeir made the police angry, and they imposed collective punishment on all of East Jerusalem."

Israeli police have regularly closed off the neighborhoods of Issawiya and Silwan during the campaign, preventing residents from entering or exiting. Even workers from electricity and water companies have not been granted access, Qareen says.

Over 90 percent of the arrests happen during the night and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center reports that most of the time Israeli police officers do not know who they are coming to arrest. "They are not knocking," Qareen says, "they break the doors and enter."

"They break into the house and ask the mother or father: "Where are your children?" If they say they are sleeping, they ask their names, then choose which one to arrest."

Three weeks ago Israeli forces raided the Abbasi family house and couldn't decide which young family members to detain, so took all three to the police station, Qareen says.

Once detainees are released they can face heavy fines and Addameer says that the majority of detainees, mostly young men, face months of house arrest or are banned from certain areas of East Jerusalem, sometimes the areas in which they live.

Qareen says the campaign is deliberately intended to keep the Palestinian community "quiet."

"They want to make us live like we are in a hotel, just eating and sleeping and doing nothing else. If anyone stands up to the occupation, they make us a criminal."

Police brutality

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has documented multiple cases of police brutality during the arrest campaign, and have called for an immediate review of the policy of officers wearing ski-masks during detentions.

In one arrest on July 11, masked police officers possessing no identification tags broke into the home of a 22-year-old resident of Issawiya at 3 a.m. and vandalized the house.

In another arrest on July 16, around 20 masked and armed policemen jumped over a fence and burst into a home in Shufat without identifying themselves. The Israeli officers handcuffed a 21-year-old man and covered his eyes with a cloth tied around his head.

ACRI also documented an incident in which the daughter of a Palestinian family opened the door to a masked officer in East Jerusalem, and was rifle-butted without provocation.

"Without faces and names, policemen are simply a group of unidentified, unknown gunmen barging into homes in the middle of the night – a practice characteristic of tyrannical regimes," ACRI Attorney Yusef Karram said.

There has also been an unprecedented increase in the use of "Skunk" water in the weeks following the murder of Abu Khdeir, which is rarely used in East Jerusalem, but commonplace in the West Bank.

Ronit Sela, East Jerusalem project director for ACRI, told Ma'an that Skunk water was used on the second floor of commercial and residential buildings in densely populated areas like Saladin and Zahra Street during times when there were no riots, leaving behind a foul-smelling stench for days.

The group also documented the use of sponge-coated bullets in Shufat, with one resident losing an eye after being hit during protests and three journalists shot in the head and face despite being clearly marked as press.

Perhaps the starkest incident involving masked police officers was the beating of US-Palestinian teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir, whose assault was captured on camera on July 5.

"The result is intimidation. It is intimidating to have police in your house anyway but more intimidating when it is done by masked people. Using masked police against civilians is a common practice in regimes that choose to intimidate their societies," Sela said.

Gavan Kelly, Addameer's international advocacy coordinator, says that along with the use of masked officers, a notable difference in the recent arrest campaign is the lack of official arrest warrants.

"We expect it to continue, it still ongoing. How long it will continue for will depend, there is a lag in between the waves of arrests. They draw up lists and interrogate them, it is a continuous process."

Kelly says that the mass arrests are a way of punishing the escalation in demonstrations and protests following the murder of Abu Khdeir, and also in relation to events in the occupied West Bank and the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

Mass arrests are intended to have a "psychological impact not only on the individual, but also on the society as a whole," Kelly says.

"Israel thinks that they will be able to suppress resistance, but it has the opposite effect. It will encourage Palestinians to continue protesting."
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