Perhaps more appalling than the sight of the police pointing their rifles at worshippers and sneering is their vanishing humanity
Border Police officers at Lions Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, July 2017. Credit Olivier Fitoussi
The Border Police and the regular police look disgusting, covered with their bullets, sponge-tipped bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, not to mention their black shin guards. They aim their long rifles at groups of worshippers in Jerusalem.
Near Huta Gate, where you descend to Lions Gate, three such armed men in gray uniforms stood on the roof of a one-story house, each with a foot on the railing. All three aimed their rifles at the dozens of men and women who sat crowded together on the asphalt, awaiting the muezzin’s call to prayer.
And maybe even more appalling than the sight of the police and the Border Police – and their arrogant, alienated and hostile sneers at the Palestinians – is Israelis’ delight at their attractiveness, heroism and sweetness.
The real heroes are of course the Palestinians. It’s heroism to constantly live in the shadow of people in gray uniforms and ammunition belts aiming their rifles (and the army of expropriating officials and settlers, whom the police are protecting).
On Friday, before noon, these heroes once again came en masse to pray, despite the aimed rifles and the knowledge they might easily find themselves in areas where stun grenades, tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets and rubber-coated metal bullets would be fired at them.
In fact, from several areas where “clashes” erupted that day, eyewitnesses reported that right at the end of the prayer the police fired a stun grenade or two. No stone had been thrown at them. It’s the police’s way of saying “yalla, go home. The show is over.” But in our media Palestinian heroism is always “rioting” and Israeli belligerence is always a response.
With typical nonchalance, Israeli journalists’ sigh of relief (before the fatal attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish on Friday night) because the “Palestinian rioting has been contained” skipped over the killing of three young Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds. (Residents were called on to donate blood at Al-Makassed Hospital.)
The three killed Palestinians were mentioned, but the mourning, the families’ pain, the pools of blood that remained where they fell, the suffocating Israeli violence – none of that was included in the calculations, the measurements and the summaries of our media. That’s why we wave the cruelty of the attack in Halamish as another piece of decisive proof of our enemies’ despicable nature.
Our own cruelty – moment after moment, day after day, month after month, year after year – doesn’t bother us. As long as our cruelty guarantees our generally good lives, it’s legitimate.
No, Israelis can’t see the ugliness and the revolting nature of the Border Police and the police who fill the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. And at the checkpoints they ask elderly people who, like their parents and grandparents, were born in the city: “Where are you from? Show us your papers.” It’s so offensive. So cruel. But we shouldn’t expect anything else from foreign, coerced rule.
“How humiliating it is that some policeman from Ethiopia or Russia asks me ‘Where are you from, show us your papers,’” one elderly man said to me, as he sat on the edge of a shop under his home on al-Wad (Hagai) Street in order to pray there, near the African neighborhood in front of Majlis Gate.
“All the policemen here are Arabs,” said another elderly man, who entered the Old City and had to show his ID card, in several cycles of inspection, in order to prove he was over 50. This was wildly exaggerated, as proved by the skullcaps worn by several of the policemen.
At 11 A.M., about an hour and a half before the beginning of the noon prayer, the police dragged cardboard boxes with sandwiches and bottles of water from place to place; they distributed them to all the police positions. Settlers who live in the heart of the Muslim Quarter asked whether they would like something hot to eat.
Other policemen just stood next to their positions and, in a friendly and jovial way, chatted with the Israeli visitors who were making their way to the Western Wall.
At the checkpoint in front of the African neighborhood stood a large group of policemen dressed in black, who filtered out the passersby. The neighborhood leads to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “Muslims only,” said one policeman. “You’re invited to go up to the Temple Mount via Mughrabi Gate from Sunday to Thursday.”
I tried to explain that I wanted to visit acquaintances in the African neighborhood, not to enter the mosque. And he stuck to his instructions: Entry here is only for Muslims. “And what about someone who has Muslim friends here, you’re not allowed to have Muslim friends?” I asked. His answer: “I didn’t say it’s not allowed, but let them come out to you and you can meet outside.”
I thought that the filtering was only for prayer time, and I returned when it was over. And again – a policeman explained that the orders were Muslims only, and the first policeman showed up and reprimanded me for returning, and repeated that I was invited to enter the Temple Mount only via Mughrabi Gate on such and such days.
So I asked: Since when is it forbidden to enter the African neighborhood? The second policeman said it has been like that since time immemorial. I said no it hasn’t; after all, I’ve visited my acquaintance here in the past.
“Those are our orders,” he said. “Go away, we’ll detain you for disturbing a policeman while he’s on duty. Go away.” The volume of their voices rose, and I demanded to know their names, which weren’t written as required on a badge on their shirts.
We’re photographing you, they threatened; their partner declared that he was taking pictures. No problem, I replied. I haven’t committed any crime. They took out their papers. They had Arab names.
That’s cruelty too: to engineer Israeli Arab society so that its sons agree to participate in the oppression of their brothers.