When I first saw the video and photos I got from Palestinian friends of the heads of the Israeli legal system visiting the settlers in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem last Thursday, I didn’t want to believe it. It is sad commentary on how far we have gone with asserting our control of East Jerusalem. How could those distinguished people not have thought about the destructive meaning of such a visit? Is the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem coming to resemble the Israeli occupation of the West Bank? Or maybe it is actually a good sign, an opportunity for us to become more aware of what our presence there means and to unmask the Israeli mantra of “The United City of Jerusalem”.
The Distinguished Guests of the Settlers
Last Thursday, General Attorney Yehuda Weinstein, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, and the Jerusalem Police Chief, Aharon Franco, accompanied by some of the heads of the police and the State Attorney’s office, conducted a tour in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. They started the visit at the “Aderet Compound” of the settlers, where they were hosted and briefed by the chairman of the Elad settler association, David Beeri.
David Beeri (first from left), the head of the Settlers group of Elad, Moshe Lador (second from left), The State Prosecutor, Yehuda Weinstein (third from right, with his back to the camera), The State Attorney.
The settlement in Silwan is not only politically controversial, but is also the subject of several petitions and legal cases regarding the conduct of the settlers and the authorities. On top of the roof of a house that used to belong to a Palestinian family and was sold to the settlers in a controversial transaction, the delegation listened to the settlers’ version. Only the settlers’ version. They didn’t visit the homes of hundreds of Palestinian children that were arrested by the police in the past few months; they did not see the cracks that emerged in Palestinian houses due to the excavations undertaken underneath them, and didn’t hear the stories of the dozens of families whose homes are scheduled for demolition due to lack of planning and years-long neglect.
After the brief at the “Aderet Compound,” the delegation drove in armored cars down to the “Yonatan House” of the settlers at the Battan Al-Hawa neighborhood in Silwan. This 6 story house was built illegally. The court ordered its eviction but the municipality and police have been delaying the implementation of the court order. The visitors even found it suitable to enter into the house.
The Destructive Meaning of the Visit
We don’t know what was said at this visit and what was its true purpose, but the impression that the Palestinian neighbors got was one: The heads of the police and the law enforcement system are in cahoots with the settlers and the Palestinian residents are totally ignored (except from being a threat against which one needs an armored car), as if they don’t exist as equal residents. I assume that at least some of the people in the delegation simply didn’t think about this impression, and maybe, had they thought about it, they may have avoided the visit.
We always knew that although officially annexed to Israel, the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem were never truly integrated into Israel. There is a huge gap between the lives of the Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalemites – in the very basic civil status (the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are Israeli residents but not citizens), in the infrastructure and in all services. However, at least officially, there was supposed to be full equality in the legal system and law enforcement, and the authorities insisted on maintaining an impression of having such equality. It seems that last Thursday, this impression was severely damaged.
For the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, there are not so many legitimate and effective ways to struggle for their minimal rights. Turning to the Israeli legal system is one of the few legitimate and non-violent ways open to them. If they lose the very little trust they still have in this system, it might lead them to other, less legitimate, means.
Head of The settler group of Elad, Daid Beeri, hand in hand with the Jerusalem Police Chief, Aharon Franco
But apart from this interest-based reasoning, the picture of the head of the Jerusalem Police, walking hand in hand with the head of a controversial settlers group, is alarming. The police deals every day with many complaints filed by Palestinians due to the settlers’ activity. The State Prosecutor deals every day with many complaints filed by Palestinians regarding police misconduct, and with several petitions in court regarding settlement activities in East Jerusalem. He and his colleagues cannot be objective if they don’t see a problem with the kind of visit that they paid to the settlers last Thursday. And as much as it hearts me to say it, this means that in East Jerusalem, we don’t have democracy, but some kind of a regime, as the occupation crawls in from the West Bank into East Jerusalem. In this regime, the settlers are considered part of the official government and whoever tries to oppose them becomes automatically illegitimate.