It is impossible to live in East Jerusalem and not to hear regular tales of injustice, including unnecessary police brutality, house demolitions and a wide range of acts designed to strip Palestinians of their dignity. Only last week a couple were shot in their car at a mobile checkpoint a few miles away from Jerusalem. The man died and the woman was seriously injured. Their crime is unknown as it is reported that they cooperated with the police checks and had been waved on just before they were shot. It is unlikely that there will be an investigation. These stories are heartbreakingly tragic, even more so as they barely cause a ripple around the world.
As internationals living in Jerusalem, most of us are completely sheltered from seeing any of these harsh realities in real life. This week however, I received a guest blog from someone who witnessed police violence at a peaceful protest. Her apartment overlooks where this protest took place, and she had a bird’s eye view of events as they unfolded. If there is ‘another side’ to this story it is difficult to see what it could be.
An eyewitness account:
“Friday afternoons when I’m at home I hear the familiar chants from the group who gather to protest Israel’s occupation of Sheikh Jarrah and wider East Jerusalem. Every Friday come rain or shine there are sometimes a handful of people, sometimes more. Recently their numbers have grown in response to the court decision to evict Palestinians from their homes. The protests have developed from standing with placards chanting to the beat of drums at a junction in Sheikh Jarrah, to more recently walking the 200m to where the homes waiting for eviction stand, before returning once again to the junction.
Last Friday was another such afternoon. I listened to the regular drum beat and watched the mix of people holding banners: “Save Sheikh Jarrah”, “End the Occupation”. Usually, a police car or two sits observing from the corner of the junction – as it does most days checking the IDs of Palestinians walking by or Palestinians using the passing buses – but strangely there was no police presence today as the protesters started their weekly walk. As the protest moved past the entrance of the Shimon Hatsadik Tomb, two riot vans and three police cars swiftly appeared, and more than two dozen police officers and heavily armed Israel Defence Force (IDF) exited their vehicles.
As the protesters turned round to walk back from the properties facing eviction, the police blocked their path. The police started to push the protestors and it quickly escalated when a police officer struck one of the protestors in the head and pushed him to the ground. The man didn’t look young. Another police officer threw a stun grenade into the crowd. Eight more were thrown. A second older protestor was injured by a stun grenade and was bundled away from the crowd by others.
After about five minutes the protestors moved peacefully away. Two ambulances arrived. A few gathered around the ambulance, possibly the injured. The protesters re-grouped at their usual spot by the side of the road near the junction. Their drums and chants resumed. Some people gathered around the remaining police cars – I read later that two activists were detained and that it was a Knesset member who had been struck and injured by the police.
This same weekend just 1km away in West Jerusalem police blocked roads to allow people to protest against Israel’s Prime Minister. The disparity in approach by the police at this peaceful protest with no IDF presence was striking.
As a lawyer, I have always believed that the legal system provides redress for state abuse of power. Therefore, I am ever hopeful that the investigation into this incident by police’s Jerusalem District chief, Doron Turgeman, will be fair and impartial and that the outcome will act as a deterrent against the use of unreasonable force. A peaceful protest is not a whisper in the streets. It is a loud collective voice, drums banging, placards carried, and often a cry for justice. These voices have a right to be heard. To peacefully protest is a fundamental pillar of any democracy. Without peaceful protest little hope or means remain for the Palestinians to challenge the illegal occupation”.