ACRI Calls for End to Employment of Private Guards in E. Jerusalem

Following killing of Palestinian in Silwan as well as death of baby, ACRI calls on authorities to make drastic changes in conduct, regulations in East Jerusalem, and publish procedures on tear gas use

During the last week of September 2010, ACRI monitored and reacted to a string of very alarming events which took place in East Jerusalem.

Security Guard Kills Palestinian in Silwan: One of the concluding recommendations of ACRI’s latest report, “Unsafe Space: The Israeli Authorities’ Failure to Protect Human Rights Amid Settlements in East Jerusalem”, is for the authorities to adopt the recommendation of the 2006 Or Commission to stop the employment of private security guards in East Jerusalem and deploy regular police forces instead. See below brief legal background, taken from chapter 4 of the report, which also documents the accounts of Silwan residents of assaults on them by the settlers’ guards in the past six months.

On Wednesday September 22, following the shooting of Samer Sarhan by a private security guard in Silwan, ACRI called on the authorities to urgently carry out the recommendations of this commission. It should be noted that in 2010, the cost of operating guards to protect some 2,000 Jews living in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem amounted so far to more than NIS 54 million, which were taken from the budget of the Housing and Construction Ministry. We will continue to lobby to this end, including a planned intervention before the Prime Minister.

Interrogation of ACRI fieldworker: On Monday September 27, ACRI’s East Jerusalem fieldworker Mahmoud Qarae’en was detained for questioning at the Shalem Police Station. Mahmoud was standing on the street in Wadi Hilwe, Silwan, when he was stopped for the first time by policemen, who checked his I.D card and immediately let him go. A few minutes later he saw the settlers’ security guards approach the same policemen who had stopped him earlier, and point at him. He was then taken to the police station, asked about his whereabouts throughout the day, and released after three hours. His story, not uncommon in Silwan, reflects two concerning trends ACRI has been warning against: The harassment of human rights defenders and community activists in East Jerusalem, and the role that security guards have illegally adopted of serving as a policing force, and telling the police who they should arrest and interrogate.

Death of Baby Suspected to be Caused by Police Tear Gas: On Friday, September 24, Mohammad Abu Sarah, a one year-old baby boy, died in his home in ‘Issawiya. Mohammad suffered from asthma, and there is evidence to suspect that his death may have occurred as a result of inhaling tear gas that penetrated his house. Eyewitnesses told ACRI that the large quantities of tear gas fired by the police in reaction to the riots in the neighborhood created a thick “cloud” of tear gas in close vicinity to the family home. The riots took place following the death of Samer Sarhan earlier in the week.

On Saturday, September 25 ACRI intervened before the Jerusalem Police demanding that they open an investigation into Mohammad’s death. In the intervention, Attorney Nisreen Alyan also inquired whether there are clear procedures for using tear gas in densely built urban areas, as the lack of wind leaves the air thick with tear gas and increases its impact, including on those who stay at home and away from points of conflict(often children and the elderly). We are waiting to receive an official response from the police.

BACKGROUND: Security Guards in East Jerusalem, an excerpt from “Unsafe Space” report.

The security of Jewish settlers in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is currently the responsibility of Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing. The ministry contracts out security work to private companies, the largest of which is ‘Civilian Intelligence’ (Hebrew: ‘Modi’in Ezrahi’), which employs hundreds of armed guards in Palestinian neighborhoods . In 2010, the cost of these security services came to a total of NIS 54,540,000, funded entirely by Israeli taxpayers.

The results are palpable and evident. Each settler receives comprehensive and broad personal protection: Armed security guards are positioned at every Jewish compound; hundreds of security cameras operate throughout the neighborhoods; settlers are provided 24-hour close bodyguard accompaniment, whether by foot or by vehicle; and in some locations they are provided transport in heavily armored cars.

It is worth noting that settlers in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods have been contracting private security services since the early 1990s, when then Housing Minister, Ariel Sharon, bought a house in the Muslim Quarter, which today is used by Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim.

Unlike police officers, whose ability to use force is limited by the strict guidelines established by law and police procedure, private security guards are not subject to these laws nor are they obligated by the basic rules that guide the police in carrying out their duties.

Security guards do not undergo the same training as police officers, nor are they under the supervision of a publicly administered body. The result is that the security guards employed in East Jerusalem are not reined in by any clear working definitions, a situation which invites the abuse of power.

The inherent problem in employing private security firms was studied by the Public Committee to Examine the Security and Guarding of Compounds in East Jerusalem, under the direction of Gen. (res.) Uri Or – a committee appointed by the Minister of Housing in 2006 to examine the subject. The committee’s report recommended the scrapping of privately hired security companies and the transferring of security responsibility back to the police. Though the government adopted the committee’s recommendations in January 2007, only three months later the decision was overturned and things reverted back to as the previous situation.

The fact that private security bodies are employed on the ground, utilizing force – including the use of firearms with live ammunition – without any proper oversight or monitoring by the state, opens the door to grave violations of the human rights of residents. From the testimony of residents it appears that the threshold of that doorway has been crossed, that the unsupervised actions of the security guards are indeed characterized by extremely disturbing trends.

  • Print
  • email
  • RSS
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

Categories: East Jerusalem, Police and Security Guards, The Occupied Territories, Use of Force

Tags: |

Comments are closed.