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As stonethrowing escalates, Israeli police round up Arab children in E. Jerusalem

Residents in the volatile neighborhood of Silwan say more than 100 youths have been arrested in the past month – often taken from their homes at 3 or 4 a.m.

By Ben LynfieldCorrespondent / October 29, 2010

Palestinian youths throw stones at a vehicle in the mostly Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, on Oct. 29.

Ammar Awad/Reuters



Amid rising Israeli-Arab tensions, Israeli police are waging a crackdown on Palestinian youths – many not yet teenagers – in East Jerusalem’s most volatile neighborhood, Silwan.

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In a recent incident, M., a slightly chubby 10-year-old with dark eyes, was harmed by a group of plainclothes forces who sprang out of an unmarked car and grabbed him off the street, according to his father's account, which was backed up by other residents. (M.'s full name could not be used because of an Israeli law protecting juveniles.)

“There were five mistarabin,” M. recalls, referring to Israeli security forces who disguise themselves as Arabs. At a detention center he was questioned by someone who identified himself as Capt. Shadi, adds M. “He asked me, ‘Who throws stones?’ I told him I don’t know.”

The report of a local doctor, Fawzi Aasi, who treated M. after he was released from six hours in custody, said his knees were “bleeding from laceration” and elsewhere he was suffering from pain and swelling – which his father attributed to beating.

The Oct. 18 incident marked the fourth time M. has been arrested since February amid the Israeli police’s escalating battle with the youths of Silwan, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the East Jerusalem area captured by Israel in the 1967 war and then annexed – a move the international community views as illegal.

Since 1991, Silwan has been increasingly penetrated by Israeli Jews who believe it was once inhabited by the biblical King David, and thus view it as a Jewish patrimony.

Tensions are especially high now, after an Israeli security guard – one of numerous guards hired to protect the area’s several hundred Jewish residents – shot dead Palestinian resident Samir Sirhan in disputed circumstances three weeks ago. And on Oct. 24, municipality workers accompanied by police began handing out demolition orders against 22 homes as part of a municipal plan to create a biblically-themed archaeological park, The King’s Garden.

The safety situation for Jews living in the area is “undoubtedly the worst it has ever been,” says Udi Ragones, a spokesman for Jewish residents in Silwan, who sees more police force as the answer. During the past month, he says, there has been an incident of Palestinian stonethrowing or other violence every day. “Stones can kill,” he stresses.

But critics say that the police crackdown, combined with recent scuffles and demolition plans – as well as the municipality’s move this week to shut down a protest tent erected by residents – could cause Silwan’s simmering tensions to boil over.

“They are merely adding fuel to the fire that is spreading and threatening to engulf all of us in flames,” says Meir Margalit, a liberal member of the Jerusalem City Council. “Each day we are on the brink of a new intifada [uprising] that could start in Silwan or elsewhere.”

Youths arrested at home, on streets

Community leaders say that more than 100 youths have been arrested over the past month in Silwan, most of them under 13 years old. Police counter that only 40 people have been arrested throughout East Jerusalem during that time, “all directly involved in violence.” Many are teenagers who engage in violence on their way to or from school, the police say.

But the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) argued otherwise in a letter it sent to the Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonvich of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, on Monday.