The Jerusalem Border Police headquarters yesterday (20/9/2010) organized a lovely, distinguished and enjoyable event for the senior officers of the Jerusalem brigade. The commander of the Jerusalem Border Police changed and the senior officers were recognized with an event that began with a fine meal provided by a special caterer who works with the police. Then the guests gathered in a large events tent where a ceremony was held and speeches were made to much merriment and clapping. Finally, actor Jackie Levy and musician-singer Ariel Horowitz performed an entertaining show. But even at this early stage it appears that the new commander of the Jerusalem Border Police has set off on the wrong foot.
The organizers of the event seem to have thought of everything except one thing: the location. Of all function halls in Jerusalem they chose the courtyard of the City of David settlement in the heart of the Palestinian village of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, East Jerusalem. As the guests arrived the main street was closed to vehicular traffic, apparently for security reasons. The residents of Silwan, who are used to the road being closed every other day for one event or another at the settlement in their village, did not know that this time the occasion for celebration was the police itself, which decided to hold its party in the settlement of all places.
The residents of East Jerusalem have never fully trusted the police and justice system in Israel. Their status as permanent residents who are not citizens with equal rights is a starting point for discriminatory treatment by the enforcement agencies. Compounded with the context of the conflict, the violence inherent in it and the occupation of their Palestinian compatriots in the West Bank (who do not even have the status of residents), it is understandably hard for the residents of East Jerusalem to feel safe and to believe that at least formally and legally their rights are being protected. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has recently issued an important and comprehensive report on the subject.
Holding an event for a change of commanders precisely in one of the most controversial places in Jerusalem, in the courtyard of a settlement in the heart of a Palestinian village, is a very grave message for the residents. Just one month ago the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the commander of the Jerusalem police were strongly criticized for going on a tour of the site with the settler leaders. I wonder what the organizers were thinking when they chose Silwan. Were they trying to send a message to the residents, so that they know who the police serve? Were they trying to send a message to the senior commanders? Maybe they just didn’t think about it. And that is the worst possibility. The fact that the commanders of the Border Police could conceive of having their party there of all places indicates they are not even aware that their job as police is not to serve the interests of the settlers at that site but to protect the rights of all of the residents of Silwan, including the rights of the Palestinians to a normal life with a fair legal system.
Maybe the new commander can enjoy the benefit of the doubt and claim this event was organized by his predecessors, but if he does not act to fundamentally change the police treatment of the Palestinian residents and the settlers, he will lose the little trust he may still be able to command.