Some Israelis are begging their government to intensify police violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem, according to British-Palestinian activist and writer Yara Hawari after she attended an ultra-nationalist demonstration that included students from Hebrew University.
Speaking from her home in the eastern occupied Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Thursday, Hawari detailed her shocking encounters with the protesters and described concerns among Palestinians in the wake of rising Israeli violence in the occupied city.
Israel’s crackdown in Jerusalem has intensified dramatically since the assassination attempt on Yehuda Glick, a prominent US-born extremist who seeks to replace the al-Aqsa mosque with a Jewish “Third Temple.”
Hours after Glick was shot, Israeli police stormed the home of 32-year-old Mutaz Hijazi and forced him onto his roof and riddled his body with more than twenty bullets, killing him. Israeli police claimed they had come to arrest Hijazi as a suspect in the attack on Glick.
Israeli authorities assert that Hijazi was armed and opened fire at police, forcing them to retaliate. However witnesses dispute the occupation authorities’ version of events, insisting Hijazi was dragged on his roof unarmed and then extrajudicially executed.
Hijazi’s killing marked the second time in a week that a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem.
Last week Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi was shot and killed by Israeli forces after driving his car into Israeli pedestrians at the Jerusalem light rail, killing a baby and a woman. Shaludi was shot in the back twice after exiting his vehicle and therefore did not pose an imminent threat at the time he was killed.
According to Hawari, these high profile execution-style killings have heightened fears among Palestinians that any among them could be shot on sight by Israeli police at any moment with absolute impunity.
“I worry about my male cousins here,” she told me.
Rattled by the ongoing rise in anti-Arab sentiment, Palestinians are modifying their daily routines and behavior to avoid trouble.
Hawari intentionally stays away from western Jerusalem — which has been almost exclusively Jewish since Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from that part of the city in 1948 — because “it doesn’t feel entirely safe.” She told me that her cousin, who commutes by train to work every day, will not speak Arabic while on the phone.
“She’ll speak in English because she’s too uncomfortable, too frightened to speak Arabic in West Jerusalem,” Hawari explained.
More police violence, please
In the days after the light rail incident, Hawari attended an ultra-Zionist rally outside the police station where protesters held photos of the Israeli-American infant killed in the crash, as they clamored for more police violence against Palestinians.
“[Demonstrators] were claiming that the police had their hands tied behind their backs because of groups like B’Tselem and other human rights groups,” Hawari recalled, adding that the crowd included many young people from Hebrew University.
Hawari expressed shock at the coments she heard from protesters.
“They were telling me the police should just shoot Arabs on the spot. Any kind of person that protests, they should be shot on the spot,” she recounted.
Hawari confronted one woman about the hit-and-run killing of a five-year-old Palestinian girl in the occupied West Bank by a Jewish settler just days before the Jerusalem car crash. At first, the woman refused to believe her. Then she insisted it must have been an accident, arguing that it is not in a Jew’s genetic makeup to hurt others.
When Hawari pointed out that murders take place in Israel all the time, as they do in every society, the woman responded, “Yeah, but these people are mentally ill.”
Below is a transcript of the interview with Hawari, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rania Khalek: The last couple days have been really intense from what I can tell. Why don’t you give us an update on what’s going on around you.
Yara Hawari: For the last few weeks there’s the most constant sound of helicopters. You wake up to this helicopter noise, which is really quite disconcerting. It almost sounds like drones, even though of course it’s not drones.
There’s an intensified police presence in East Jerusalem. When you drive through Beit Hanina there’s heavily armed police on every corner watching and being really intimidating. In Sheikh Jarrah, where I live, there’s a heavy police presence because there’s a settlement as well. I guess they’re stepping up security for the settlements.
There’s been some demonstrations by ultra-Zionist groups. I covered one on Tuesday. It wasn’t very big. It was no more than fifty people but the sentiments were very very anti-Arab. The mayor of Jerusalem has basically said that the security forces need to tighten their grip on Palestinians and that’s what they’re doing.
RK: It’s escalated over the past couple of days. I’m talking to you on Thursday, October 30. Last night there was a shooting of Yehuda Glick, a right-wing Temple activist who wants to destroy the Dome of the Rock and rebuild a third temple. He’s been leading these settler incursions for the past couple of months into al-Aqsa and this has been intensifying in recent days and then he was shot. The police presence was already ramped up in the past few weeks. Is it even more so now after the shooting?
YH: He was a suspected murderer. He wasn’t convicted of anything. It’s become more tense because no one’s going to get prosecuted for shooting him. Now Palestinians feel like they could be shot on sight.
RK: You’re talking about the man [Mutaz Hijazi] who was suspected of shooting Yehuda Glick and who was killed.
YH: Exactly. I think it’s more worrying for male Palestinians in terms of the authorities possibly shooting them and that’s scary. I worry about my male cousins here. So it’s not pleasant.
We do feel like there is anti-Arab sentiments in Jerusalem. My cousin takes the tram to West Jerusalem everyday for work and she doesn’t speak Arabic on the phone, on the tram. She’ll speak in English because she’s too uncomfortable, too frightened to speak Arabic in West Jerusalem.
I don’t go to West Jerusalem anyway but I have been a couple of times and I feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel entirely safe at all actually.
RK: You were talking about the settlement right next to where you are. Is there tension between the settlements right now. I mean, some of these settlements have the most radical people in them, is that right?
YH: Some of the people that live in Sheikh Jarrah, the settlers, they call them the Jewish Taliban. They’re this cult that are pretty crazy.
It’s always been tense. The settlers kind of run in and run out basically. It’s always been tense and I guess it’s a bit tense now because they have ramped up the security and there’s always a police car near the entrance to the settlement.
RK: With the ultra-Zionist rally you went to the other day, I know there wasn’t that many people there but it seems like it’s been quiet. Over the summer there was a lot of these “death to Arabs” mobs chanting through the streets in various places in the lead up to the assault on Gaza. And then it was quiet for a little bit. Now I’m seeing people tweet more about that sentiment being back and loud with people demanding revenge against Palestinians for the guy that drove into the light rail.
YH: That demonstration was directly in reaction to the tram stop attack. They were holding signs of the baby that was killed. They were holding placards and shouting things like “no terror in Jerusalem.” It was also done outside of the police station on Road 1 because they were shouting that police should have more freedom to deal with Arabs and they were claiming that the police had their hands tied behind their backs because of groups like B’Tselem and other human rights groups which was really shocking actually because the police are really terrible. They shoot on sight.
These people were really crazy. They’re like ultra-Zionists. The worst thing about it was they were students from the Hebrew University. So it’s not even like you could forgive them for being old and rightwing and fascist and they’re young.
RK: That’s like the American rightwing.
YH: Yeah, I’m not used to this because I grew up in Britain so I associate rightwing and fascism with older people.
It was really weird; I was interviewing some people because I have a British accent I can get away with being British, which I am. They were telling me the police should just shoot Arabs on the spot. Any kind of person that protests, they should be shot on the spot.
RK: It does seem to be the mentality there right now, at least with the police, is this collective punishment where one Palestinian does something, which is almost always a reaction to Israeli violence and then there’s reports of tear gas canisters being thrown through people’s windows, like mafia-style bricks.
YH: In Issawiya and Silwan, yeah, they’ve been doing that. And “skunk” trucks [which spray foul-smelling water] as collective punishment as well. But they openly said that they were going to punish Palestinians for the protests and that attack. The mayor of Jerusalem said so. They said they hoped the crackdown on Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem would inspire them to turn against the protests. That’s what they said. They’re very open about collective punishment.
RK: There’s been attacks on Palestinians by both soldiers — there’s been a couple of shootings, killings of young unarmed Palestinian teenagers — and also there’s been settlers that have been ramming their vehicles into Palestinian children, one of whom was killed a couple of weeks ago. Does this even register in Israel at all?
YH: I actually asked one of these ultra-Zionist demonstrators. I said to her, “The killing of a three-month-old baby at the tram stop was awful, it mirrors the attack in the West Bank, where a settler ran over two girls and one of them died.” And this woman was like, “When did this happen? It never happened!”
I was like, “No, it did happen.” And then she fought about it and she was like, “Okay, you see what happened here was an accident because it is not in a Jew’s nature to commit a violent act.” And then she went on to tell me about the genetics of Jews and how Jews simply cannot hurt another person because it’s not within Judaism.
Then I asked her, I was like, “Yeah but there are murders in Israel. Forget about the occupation, within Israeli society people do kill each other. It is like any other society.”
And she was like, “Yeah, but these people are mentally ill.”
RK: Wow, that’s like a parody.
YH: I want to interview this woman because according to a friend of mine, Dan [Cohen], she’s apparently this woman from Tel Aviv and she’s a really strong anti-African immigration activist and she says some really awful things about Black people.
RK: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it. And stay safe out there.