Gideon Levy . Halloween Came Early This Year for Palestinians in Isawiyah
It was an operation aimed at improving the inhabitants’ quality of life and perhaps it might even be defined by those who led it as a humanitarian operation. In the dark of night, hundreds of Border Police and members of the regular police force who participated in it, accompanied by K-9 dogs, brutally invaded the homes of hundreds of inhabitants, pulled 51 of them out of their beds, cuffed their hands behind their backs and took them to detention, without an explanation.
According to Amer Aruri, a field researcher for the B’Tselem human rights organization, 25 of the arrestees were minors. Their parents stood for hours this week, anxious and frightened, at the entrance to the police lockup in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound, waiting for signs of life from their children. Presumably the arrests of their children were also aimed at improving their quality of life.
On the night between Sunday and Monday, the forces invaded. According to a police press release, Operation 700 was a combined effort that included police as well as municipal personnel, detentions as well as improvement of the city’s appearance, collection of taxes as well as a search for drug dealers, arrests of stone-throwers as well as removal of piles of trash, and eradication of graffiti as well as removal of signs that endangered the lives of locals. In short, Halloween in Isawiyah, a well-to-do and tumultuous East Jerusalem neighborhood (called a village by its inhabitants), located on Mount Scopus at the foot of Hadassah University Hospital and across from the Hebrew University campus. It was here only last week that parents refused to send their children to class due to Israeli police activity near the neighborhood’s school.When we arrived during the day on Monday, people thronged the streets and everyone was grateful to the police, the Border Police and the other occupation forces for their devoted action the previous night. Just to make certain that the rejoicing would not spill out beyond the borders of the merry neighborhood, police forces manned all its entrances, performing random security checks on those who entered or left.
A member of Isawiyah’s neighborhood committee, Mohammad Abu Hummus, told us that such operations are conducted toward the end of every year, and their main aim is for the tax authorities and the Jerusalem Municipality to collect residents’ accumulated debts.
The morning after the nighttime operation, we followed in the fighters’ footsteps to visit some of the homes they had invaded. At the edge of the neighborhood, beneath the fence surrounding the hospital, live members of the extended Darwish family. Tareq Darwish opened the door to his home in an undershirt, revealing muscles and tattoos on his arms. He is a 44-year-old bus driver, the father of six, who had gone to sleep the previous night at 1 A.M. About two hours later, he tells us, he and his wife Tahrir were awoken by loud banging on the door of their first-floor apartment. By the time he gathered his wits about him, two Border Policemen were already standing in his living room. They came in through the back door, which hadn’t been locked. Four more Border Policemen and two civilians were standing at the front door, accompanied by a police dog.
“Are you Tareq?” they asked him. “We are the police. We want Yusuf.”
Yusuf is the couple’s 21-year-old son.
“Why are you asking about Yusuf,” asked Tareq.
“We have a court warrant for his arrest. He is wanted for questioning.”
The policemen showed Tareq the warrant. Yusuf was detained for a week about three years ago on suspicion of having thrown stones. Now he was still asleep in the room he shares with his 11-year-old sister, Tala.
Yusuf had gone out the previous night and had come home only a short while beforehand.
Tala awoke with a start: A dog and armed policemen were moving around in her room. The youngest child, Darwish, 4, kept sleeping in the adjacent room.
The police told Yusuf they were taking him in and ordered him to get dressed. His sisters Batool, 16, and Hadil, 13, woke up in alarm. Their father tried to calm them, telling them the police had just come to take Yusuf. They bound the young man’s hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs and went out into the darkness. Every so often, a police helicopter lit up the sky over Isawiyah.
The policemen and dog were in Tareq and Tahrir’s home for less than half an hour. They conducted a brief search, did not cause any damage to property and did not explain why Yusuf was under suspicion. On Monday, Tahrir went to the Russian Compound and tried (in vain) to see her son and find out what had happened to him. Tareq stayed home with the other children.
Tareq’s uncle, Uthman, 55, lives on the floor above them with his wife Jihad, 48, and their family. After the police left Tareq’s house with Yusuf, the police went up to the second floor. The apartment here is full of decorative objects – animals sculpted from wood, ceramics and glass items.
The furniture in the living room and the kitchen equipment are modern, and signal wealth. A photograph of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hangs in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator.
Jihad wears a head scarf and traditional clothing. When we stop by, she tells us Uthman had gone to the Russian Compound that morning to find out what had happened to their youngest son, Amir – a 15-year-old 10th-grader whom the police had also arrested. The forces had arrived just before 4 A.M., after having finished their business downstairs.
Suffering from anxiety
Uthman and Jihad Darwish have five children. Their son Fadi, 23, has been in prison, having served five months of a nine-month sentence for stone-throwing, after having previously been on probation for a similar offense. Jihad had gone to sleep at around 11 P.M. on Sunday night and woke up to the sight of six Border Policemen and a dog in her living room.
In this case, too, the police had come in through the back door, which was unlocked; two men in civilian clothing accompanied the force. Jihad says she hadn’t heard a thing before that: not the noise of the helicopter circling overhead, nor the policemen who had entered the home of Tareq downstairs. What awakened her were the shouts outside: “Darwish, Darwish!” One of the men in civilian clothing asked her: “Why did you leave the back door open?” And she replied: “If you leave the house, I will lock it.”
The Border Policemen went into the bedroom where Amir and his 21-year-old brother Rami (who recently returned to his parents’ home after separating from his wife) were sleeping, and asked Jihad which of them was Amir, ordering her to wake him because they were taking him in.
“Just last week you arrested him,” she told them and they responded, “Today we won’t take him to the police station near the post office. Today we are taking him to interrogation room No. 4 at the Russian Compound.”
Amir had been arrested the previous month on suspicion of stone-throwing and detained for five days. His mother said that after his release, he had suffered from anxiety for about two weeks, withdrew to his room and only slept in his parents’ bed, even sleeping a lot during the day.
This time, he awoke in his bed to the sight of the police and a dog. He told his mother he thought he was dreaming.
Jihad helped her son get dressed; the police dog was barking at him. She says Amir did not show his emotions and appeared not to be alarmed, but she is very worried about him. She says the police did not show her an arrest warrant and did not explain why they were taking him. Nor did she ask. The police handcuffed Amir from behind and took him away.
A report entitled “Unprotected: The Detention of Palestinian Teenagers in East Jerusalem,” which was published this month by B’Tselem and Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, states that the authorities violate the rights of hundreds of East Jerusalem teens who are arrested every year.
From 16 sworn statements taken during the preparation of the report, it emerges that the youths are invariably wrested out of their beds and questioned without prior consultation with a lawyer and without the presence of their parents, as required by law. The right to remain silent is often not explained to them, and they are not even told what the suspicions against them are. They are detained in harsh conditions, with their remand extended time after time, even after the interrogation has ended.
The authors of the report see these violations as part of an overall policy that aims to encourage residents of East Jerusalem to leave the city.
The Isawiyah Facebook page lists the names of the 51 residents who were arrested early Monday morning. Some were released later on Monday, while others were brought to court this week to have their remand extended.
For her part, Jihad, who is usually a very reserved woman, says she wants Israelis to know what happened on Sunday night in her home, which was not damaged by the intruders.
However, there was slight damage in an apartment down the street, at the home of Amira Darwish and her daughters. When we arrived, the women of the house were busy washing the carpets and hanging them out to dry on the balcony. Grandmom Amira, 72, is away at a family wedding in the United States. This morning, they had already managed to repair the door to her room after Border Policemen had burst in to conduct a search.
The bed in Amira’s room has been turned upside down and the contents of the closets scattered over the floor. It was toward the end of Operation 700 when the forces arrived here, at 8:30 A.M.
The women here say the police told them they were looking for drugs. They were searching for their nephew, Mohammed, but he was already at work in Beit Shemesh. He was due to go in for police questioning on Tuesday.
The Jerusalem Police District provided this statement on their website: “Hundreds of police and Border Police forces acted on the night between Sunday and Monday in Isawiyah, in the context of Operation 700, as part of an extensive and combined police operation to locate and arrest persons who disturb the peace, in addition to a wide-ranging enforcement effort, while improving the quality of life of residents of the neighborhood. The arrests of the 51 suspects were carried out in parallel with the involvement of municipality personnel, who operated in the area to dispose of accumulations of trash and safety hazards, remove signs that were hanging in a way that endangers pedestrians, erasing graffiti and dealing with street lighting. ... All those arrested were brought in for continued investigation in the district’s units. Later they will come before the court.”
Pictures of municipal workers painting crosswalks in Isawiyah accompany the statement on the Israel Police website.