Tel Aviv human rights group slams Israeli police discrimination against Palestinians

Report by Association of Civil Rights in Israel details harsh riot-prevention measures, illegal arrest of minors and unofficial Israeli police policies that favour Jews over Arabs by Israeli police in East Jerusalem.

An Israeli riot policeman kicks a Palestinian man before detaining him during riots in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on May 13. A report by an Israeli civil liberties group has accused Israeli police of bias and using excessive force against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Marco Longari / AFP
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JERUSALEM // Police discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem has seriously undermined confidence in the disputed city's law enforcement, an Israeli civil liberties group has concluded.

The conduct of Israeli police over the past two years has contributed to a situation in which the "personal safety of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem has seen a serious and dangerous decline", the Tel Aviv-based Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a report released yesterday. The report cited harsh riot-prevention measures, illegal arrest of minors and unofficial Israeli police policies that favour Jews over Arabs,

ACRI deliberately released the report, entitled "Police Handling of Palestinians in Jerusalem Reveals Growing Violence and Mistrust", to coincide with Jerusalem Day celebrations starting today. They commemorate Israel's capture of East Jerusalem, and subsequent annexation by Israel after the 1967 war.

The report warned that during the Jerusalem Day celebrations "it is convenient to close our eyes to the true reality of the city - one of segregation, isolation and discrimination between its various population groups".

The report criticised the Jerusalem District Police for failing to thoroughly investigate complaints by the 280,000 Palestinian residents while, on the other hand, diligently doing so in the case of Jewish residents.

When Palestinians, who primarily live in East Jerusalem, complain to authorities, the report noted "in many cases the tables are turned against them, and they themselves become suspects in counter-complaints filed by the very same people they had accused".

As a result, it concluded, many Palestinians decline to report crime to police.

Micky Rosenfeld, Israel's police spokesman, denied the allegations, calling such reports "very inaccurate".

He said that in "Arab neighbourhoods - Issawiya, Silwan, Ras al Amoud - our police officers are attacked, and they respond as they should, to protect themselves, as well as members of the public in those areas".

ACRI's report comes amid heightened tensions as a result of the refusal last month by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, to divide Jerusalem with the Palestinians in any peace deal that is reached. Palestinians, who have long complained of discrimination in Jerusalem, want areas of the city captured during the 1967 war to form the capital of their hoped-for state.

In areas of East Jerusalem where Jewish settlers have made new inroads into Palestinian neighbourhoods, such as Silwan, the report highlights the police's "excessive use of riot-control measures".

Palestinian residents regularly protest settler encroachment in such areas and complain, according to the report, of rubber bullets fired by police at dangerously close range.

The report also notes the police misuse of tear gas canisters that allegedly led to the fatal suffocation of a toddler in Jerusalem's Issawiya neighbourhood last October and that have also set homes on fire.

Palestinian youths and pro-Palestinian demonstrations held in the city are also being targeted by what the report described as deliberate police intimidation designed dissuade further activism.

About 1,200 minors in East Jerusalem were questioned last year on suspicion of stone-throwing and another 750 were arrested for "nationalist-motivated crimes". But the report noted that indictments were given in only 226 cases, raising Palestinian suspicions that "most of these arrests and interrogations are intended solely to intimidate the youth, to extract information from them, and to scare them out of ever performing the acts of which they were suspected".

It called the detention or arrest of minors for the purpose of bringing them in for questioning "an extreme measure that severely infringes his liberty, stigmatises him as a criminal, and can cause severe psychological damage".

The report also identified illegal measures used by police to disrupt anti-settler rallies, which have become common in recent years.

During one rally in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem this year, attended by both Israeli and Palestinian activists, masked policemen were caught on film beating protesters in violation of their "obligation to always remain identifiable".

"Immediately after covering their faces the police began their indiscriminately violent attacks on the demonstrators," the report said, adding that the incident was "just one of a number of police actions carried out in East Jerusalem in which masked police officers took part".