'Isawiya (East Jerusalem)

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Rachel Afek, Gili (a guest, photographing), Ricky Shaked (reporting); Translator:  Charles K.
Seriously? Does this make us safer?

We’d arranged to meet Abu Hummus, one of the leaders of the Issawiyya parents committee.  He picked us up and brought us back but didn’t spend time with us because he had a very busy day.  We met with R. and A., who are among the village notables and members of the central parents committee, and also mediate between people and families in the village who don’t want to involve the police and don’t trust them.

R. describes an impossible situation in which the police begin entering the village in the early morning hours (2, 3 and 4 AM).  He tells of tear gas and rubber bullets.  He describes police breaking into homes by using explosives to open doors (a new method) in order to frighten the parents into keeping a tight rein on their children.  They search everywhere, upending cabinets and emptying suitcases.  They pour out the oil and rice in the kitchen, create chaos.  Some children have begun to wet their beds.  Police come in the middle of the night, arrest children, handcuff them with painful plastic bands.  They curse the children, their mother, their sister, often beat them.  They want the children to be “ready” when they are taken for interrogation.  For them to be so frightened they’ll admit to whatever they did or didn’t do.

The police operation began in mid-May, when the children were taking exams, and has continued to this day.  With the start of the school year the parents committee decided to strike.  The municipality asked that Al-Amal school be exempted because it’s for children with disabilities.  “Suddenly they’re concerned about children with disabilities, but they didn’t hesitate previously to fire tear gas into the school.  We decided that all the schools would strike.”

“Eventually we sat with the mayor.  They accused us of being unable to control things, but the village has been neglected for many years.  The children have nothing to do in the afternoon, no after-school activities, nothing.  You collect property taxes and other taxes but don’t provide services.  The children go to the gas station at the entrance to the village, and they’re already somewhere else entirely.  The mayor promised to do something for the village and the police promised to limit its activity.  The strike was called off but the promises weren’t kept.  We asked that at least they don’t come when the children are returning from school, but that wasn’t granted either.  They broke into the school and beat the principal and the guard.  Before it all began there was a community policing program, and the officers tried to develop a good relationship with the residents, but suddenly the major operation began…We tried to calm people but as soon as the police began operating against us, people told us we’re being used and refused to listen.

“Since the police operation began about 550 pupils have been arrested, all younger than 18.  The youngest called for questioning was 5 years old.  His parents, other village residents and photographers accompanied him.  The commander said:  We didn’t call him by himself, we also called his parents, and the father showed the order which named only the child.  A five-year-old, even if he threw a stone, did so while fleeing.  What could have happened?  Most of the time they tell us they have photos of children who threw stones, but it’s not certain that they’re telling the truth.  They’ve turned Issawiyya into a bank – the children are released in return for bail.  Some children are placed under house arrest – the child is kept from school, he’ll eventually drop out, and then what will happen?”

R. wanted his children to grow up differently and the four of them went to school outside of Issawiyya.  He felt that if they left home early and returned late they’d avoid the chaos in the village.  But it didn’t work.  Last month his son returned from school in Zur Baher and got off at the bus stop.  He heard people shouting “run, run”… and began to run.  He saw a jeep following him.  When people told R. his son had been arrested he hurried to the spot.  R. saw his son lying face down, a police officer with his knee on his son’s back, holding his son’s hair and trying to beat his head against the sidewalk.  When he introduced himself and asked what was happening the policeman replied, “His friend threw stones.”  The commander suggested they’d take the son to the police station, ask him a few questions and send him home.  And, in fact, in a little while they called them to pick up their son.  When he came they spoke to him with contempt: “You don’t respect anyone.”  Finally they released the boy without the father having to pay, but placed him under house arrest for five days.  Apparently there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  His daughter, who was also present, told us how frightened she was.

Later we went to A.’s house.  A had waited 17 years for the birth of his oldest son.  The couple underwent fertility treatments and finally gave birth to a boy.  A. raised him with a smile, with love for others.  But the boy grew up into a harsh reality.  At 15 he was accused of throwing stones and jailed for 100 days.  A 15-year-old boy with 400 prisoners.  A. visited, of course.  He wanted to know how he was doing.  When he was released he was no longer his father’s son.  He had become a member of the organization.  He learned the occupation didn’t allow him to live and get ahead.  One day there was an ambush by undercover agents who grabbed him.  His wife shouted, “they kidnapped the boy.”  He found out they’d taken him to the Shabak.  At the trial he saw the son’s faced was bruised.  He said to the judge, “Look at the boy, he’s just a boy.  Why do you look only at the documents.  You’re playing the same game they are.”  All the witnesses testified the son had held an object in his hand.  Maybe a phone, A. said, no one investigated.  Because he’d had a record he was sentenced to 15 months.  He’s been released and is studying to be a chef.  “Now he’s got a criminal file.  If he wants to get a job or go to university he’ll need police approval.  A boy doesn’t belong in jail.  You learn other things in jail.”

“Something strange is happening in the village.  Something strange is happening in a country seeking freedom.  We’re 22,000 breathing people.  Animals in the zoo get mangoes and ice on hot summer days and in Issawiyya…it looks like a refugee camp.  It’s clear we oppose the occupation, in our own way, but we pay taxes, we pay property tax.  Why don’t we receive municipal services?  Some express their opposition violently, but why punish 22,000 people who only want to live their lives?  You’ve suffered, I’m the first to recognize that, don’t let another people suffer.”

Thus ended our visit to Issawiyya.  We still had to visit Prof. Yoram Youval, who was conducting a sit-down strike in Independence Park, near the Knesset.  We arrived around 7 PM.  Some 30 peple stood beside the tent but Prof. Youval wasn’t there.  People who’d been there since 4 PM hadn’t seen him either.  Across the street stood a group of Bibi’s supporters, yelling, making noise, cursing everyone who favored removing him.  You should all die, you leftists, you should pay the price for Bibi and Sarah, and similar sweet nothings.  From time to time they yelled in unison, “shame, shame…”  We stayed an hour and returned home.