On Junes 27, 20-year-old Mohammed Samir Abid was killed by Israeli police forces during protests in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiya against the intensification of police raids in the area. He was shot dead as he was throwing firecrackers towards police officers. The killing, as well as the initial refusal to release its body, triggered intensive clashes that brought to surface the chronic tensions that have characterized life in this neighborhood for years.
In the last decade, Issawiya has appeared to becoming more defiant towards an increasingly aggressive police and Municipality. Along with the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabl Mukabr, both neighborhoods are viewed by the Israeli authorities as hostile areas characterized by chronic violence and as the refuge of terrorists.
The turning point appears to have taken place five years ago, when the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza and the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir led to a popular uprising throughout the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. There were hundreds of arrests during nightly clashes between the Palestinian youth and the police.
Even though that uprising has in large part diminished, it has not entirely disappeared, and is more evident in Issawiya than elsewhere.
As we previously reported in depth, these protests and disturbances gave rise to a new and aggressive policy implemented by the police, the municipality and the tax authorities: collective punishment euphemistically dubbed “enhanced enforcement”. As we cautioned then, “rather than stabilizing the situation, this new approach is in reality fueling ever-greater Palestinian rage, frustration, and alienation – which in turn will lead ineluctably to further violence”. Regrettably our fears were not without foundation.
Collective punishment: from the episodic to the systemic
Collective punishment has been used periodically in East Jerusalem, generally in response to a terror incident. However, over the past five years, episodic collective punishment has become systemic and a permanent fixture in parts of East Jerusalem as the policies, dubbed as “enhanced enforcement”, have become routine, both inside the neighborhood and on its perimeter.
Enhanced enforcement has included increasingly aggressive nightly incursions by the police and roadblocks erected at the entry of the neighborhood, at which each car is inspected and ticketed for minor offenses that go unnoticed in other parts of Jerusalem. These incursions are often accompanied by the wholesale imposition of fines for parking violations (real or purported), liens on property and debt collection by the municipality and the tax authorities, violations of municipal ordinances, periodic curfews and sporadic blockades that limit vehicular access to and from the neighborhood. This situation and the high level of tensions have brought many businesses to choose to close early.
Rather than having a deterring effect, these policies only lead to increased defiance by the residents, which incentivize the police to double down in an attempt to break the will of the neighborhood 18,000 residents.
As a result, the situation in Issawiyah has significantly deteriorated during the past three week, and the policies of collective punishment are now daily occurrences. While the trigger for this latest round was reportedly an attempt to track down members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), it is clear that the authorities are settling scores with the neighborhood.
Currently, there are no indications that these tensions are abating, but they inevitably will at some point. Even then, the situation in Issawiyah will resemble a “low grade fever”, a bearable malady that periodically erupts into disturbances and clashes with the police.