Crisis in Silwan – Is this the Third Intifada?
The Old City of Jerusalem saw fresh violence yesterday, sparked by the killing of a Palestinian man (later revised to two Palestinians dead when a second succumbed to his wounds) in the largely Arab Silwan district of occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians took to the streets and the resulting clashes with police left at least 10 Israelis, including a policeman, and 2 Palestinians wounded, though figures are still not concrete. Here are a few reports of the incident, where the details are, as usual, contested.
The UAE’s Gulf News reports:
Israeli authorities said the guard, who provided government-funded protection for a small Jewish colony in the Silwan district, opened fire on dozens of Palestinians who had blocked and stoned his car before dawn.
“It was his life or theirs,” said Ariel Rosenberg, spokesman for Israel’s Construction and Housing Ministry.
Israel’s Ha’aretz reports:
The security guard told police that he was driving through the town alone and stopped at a gas station, despite the guidelines which forbade him from stopping in the local stations. The guard added that he feared that he would be abducted after several Palestinians blocked his car.
Palestinian News Agency Ma’an reports:
Director of the Wad Hilwa Information Center Jawwad Siyam said an Israeli security guard opened fire at the four men, who were driving through the area at 5 a.m., chasing them down an alley. One of the injured remains in critical condition, the director said.
Israel National Police spokeswoman Loba Samri told reporters at the scene that Sarhan was known for participating in protests and demonstrators, offering a different account of the events leading to his death.
Samri said the guard had crashed his car in the area after which the four began pelting him with stones near one of the local settlers’ homes. The guard then opened fire, killing one, she said.
Israel’s Jerusalem Post reports:
The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.
The stark contrast in the reporting is obvious, as usual, and a further reminder of how difficult it is to know the truth during these conflicts when reading reports by the major media outlets. As Daniel Siedemann and Lara Friedman write for Americans for Peace Now:
This account raises immediate questions, including the most obvious one: why was he going alone, in the wee hours of the morning, to a small Palestinian gas station in this area – something that according to press reports his own security protocols forbid? His account is also challenged by reports from Palestinians on the ground that the guard actively pursued and only then shot the Palestinians who allegedly threw stones – an account that contradicts the claim that the use of lethal force was in self-defense.
“At 3:30 or 4am I heard some noise outside of my window,” Silwan resident Abdallah Rajmi told me as we stood on a narrow street in the middle of a battle between young Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli occupation forces from the Border Police. “I thought it was a simple drunken fight but then I heard a lot of noise coming from the people involved and my neighbors began waking up.”
Silwan is a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, near the walled Old City, and is the target of an ongoing Israeli government plan to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes and replace them with Israeli settlements and a Jewish-themed park.
Rajmi recalled the events as tear gas and rocks were being thrown from both sides onto the alley where we were standing. “At this point I went to my roof to see what was happening and I saw three settler guards with ‘small weapons’ approach a group of young Palestinian men,” referring sarcastically to the guards’ large Uzi assault riles. “The guards began shooting the men and everyone in Silwan woke up.”
At this point, we had to move to the entrance of Rajmi’s house because a storm of rocks started to rain down on us and the Border Police began to use rubber-coated steel bullets.
Dana continues to describe the situation in the aftermath of the killing:
This situation continued for five hours throughout Silwan. Pockets of stone-throwing here and there while tear gas covered the whole village as a form of collective punishment. Eventually, the funeral march began with calls of “God is great!” and every resident of Silwan came to the street to join the procession. As the funeral march wound its way through the narrow streets, people began attacking every settler house, car or bit of infrastructure in its path. Eventually, at the entrance of Silwan right next to the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, and the “City of David” settler complex, the crowd exploded with rage and full-scale destruction began. Windows were smashed in the front of the City of David building and Israeli Border Police cars were flipped over and set on fire.
As the group moved closer to the al-Aqsa compound, a number of public buses from the Israeli company Egged were on the road. Angry Silwan residents expressed their frustration and began to destroy every window and surface of the buses possible. At one point, people entered the buses in order to rip out their seats. This happened while the bus driver was still inside. The procession reached the al-Aqsa compound and the tension died down but news agencies are now reporting that stone throwing from the al-Aqsa compound plateau began when the funeral was over and Israeli troops had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Philip Weiss’ account can be read at Mondoweiss.
Incidents like this should not be taken lightly This has the potential of sparking a serious crisis. It’s precisely relatively small incidents like this that build up into huge snowballs of violence and spark intifadas. The West Bank, particularly occupied East Jerusalem and the Old City, are dangerous powder kegs and serious steps need to be taken to preserve some modicum of peace. Siedemann and Friedman once again on what those steps should be:
The government needs to communicate clearly with Israeli security forces on the ground in Silwan and make clear to their commanders that their goal must be to contain the event with minimal confrontation, and that use of force must be truly used only as a last resort.
Israeli security forces on the ground must intervene to ensure that Silwan settlers and their supporters (and their security personnel) do not act on the ground to increase tensions, particularly in light of this evening’s Erev Sukkot celebrations at the Western Wall and in the Silwan settlements (the eve of the Sukkot is a major celebration).
The Prime Minster’s office should go out swiftly and on the record expressing regret over the loss of life, and assuring a prompt impartial investigation. Given recent actions of the Israeli Police leadership and the Attorney General in Silwan, this cannot be another routine investigation and cannot be left in either of their hands. Rather, this must be an impartial, independent investigation will be genuine and address the fears and concerns of the Palestinian residents.
Jerusalem is still on high alert with checkpoints set up in several neighbourhoods, particularly around the Old City, as well as Al-Isawiya, and the Shu’fat refugee camp, where clashes had spread the night before. The Israeli presence in Silwan is also testament to how seriously the situation is being taken and what sort of force the Israelis intend to use.A continuation of protests and possible rioting is predicted in Jerusalem tonight, Joseph Dana will once again be there, as will journalist Lisa Goldman and they will hopefully keep us updated via Twitter. Follow them here and here.