Clashes erupt over killing of Palestinian in East Jerusalem
Thursday, September 23, 2010
JERUSALEM - An Israeli security guard posted to protect Jewish settlers killed a Palestinian on Wednesday in East Jerusalem, setting off street clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police that reached the compound of the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City.
The violence drew attention to the role of private security guards in volatile areas of East Jerusalem, where Jewish nationalists have moved into homes in Palestinian neighborhoods, stoking tensions. Civil rights advocates warned that the guards, who work for private firms, are operating outside the rules of engagement that bind police.
A police spokesman said the guard told investigators he fired into the air after his vehicle was blocked with large garbage bins and stoned from surrounding rooftops.
The flare-up came amid a looming crisis in U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. An Israeli moratorium on new building in West Bank settlements is set to expire Sunday, and the Palestinians have warned that if the freeze is not extended, they will withdraw from the negotiations.
The trouble began before dawn in the neighborhood of Silwan - under the walls of the Old City - where about 400 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians.
Residents and police said a confrontation developed between local youths and the security guard, who was patrolling in a car. Such incidents are common in the neighborhood, where tensions have risen in recent months since the announcement of plans by city hall to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes to make way for a park.
Hanan Odeh, who lives nearby, said that before the incident there was stone-throwing and a loud argument between Israelis and local youths. Later, she said, she heard a burst of automatic gunfire and saw a fleeing man, limping on one leg, who collapsed on the stairs under her house. He was identified as Samer Sarhan, 32, a father of five.
Sarhan's funeral triggered clashes across East Jerusalem. Stone-throwing youths battled police, who responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons. At the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, riot police charged in to disperse youths who had pelted them with rocks, the police spokesman said.
Police said nine Israelis were injured in the violence, including one who was stabbed. In addition, three vehicles, including a police car, were burned, and two cars were overturned. The guard who opened fire was questioned and later released.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded the withdrawal from East Jerusalem of private security guards, whose work is paid for by the Israeli Housing Ministry. "The guards function as a police force even though they have not been properly trained and do not have appropriate supervision," said Keren Tzafrir, a lawyer for the group. "The guards are not subject to the rules and orders of the police."
A report issued by the civil rights group this month documented accounts by Silwan residents of assaults and quick resort to gunfire by the guards posted at settlers' homes in the neighborhood.
Ariel Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Housing Ministry, said the guards operate under police guidance and have no policing functions other than protecting the settlers. He said they often display restraint in the face of rock-throwing provocations by local youths. The guard who opened fire, he said, faced "a lynch, was under a clear mortal threat and fired in self-defense."
Greenberg is a special correspondent.