Private security guards kill with impunity in East Jerusalem

A photo of Samer Sarhan, killed by a settler security guard in 2010, is held by one of his six children.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

SILWAN, occupied East Jerusalem - Ahmed Qaraeen walks with a limp, more than two years after he was shot twice, in the hip and left knee, by an Israeli settler near his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

“It was Ramadan,” Qaraeen said, his grey crutch leaning against the wall behind him. “I was sleeping in my house and I heard people shouting in the street. I went out and saw a settler point his M-16 [machine gun] at my son.”

The 41-year-old father of two said that he was shot in full view of private security guards, who were employed by Israeli settlers in Silwan, shortly after he confronted the settler who had threatened his child.

“I fell down and people started shouting around me. I was bleeding, and my two children were at my side, crying,” Qaraeen said. “The settler guards were there. They saw what happened, everything, but they did nothing. They’re here to protect the settlers, not to protect us.”

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), 350 private Israeli security guards are currently employed in East Jerusalem by private security firm Modi’in Ezrahi, which is subcontracted by the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction.

The guards’ stated purpose is to protect approximately 2,000 Jewish-Israeli settlers living in East Jerusalem from the Palestinian population of the area.

Lack of accountability

In an attempt to combat the lack of accountability benefiting these settler security guards, ACRI and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem submitted a petition to the Israeli high court on 31 October, demanding an end to their use in Israeli settlements in the city.

“Unlike police officers, who are subject to the laws and ordinances governing police behavior, private security guards in East Jerusalem do not labor under these laws, nor do they share any commitment to the basic norms that guide the police in carrying out their role as a public body serving the entire public and not just one particular sector,” ACRI wrote in its high court petition.

“Whenever privatization increases the potential for violating human rights and endangering human life, an increased level of oversight must be demanded and more sophisticated and effective supervision mechanisms put in place, by as many regulatory bodies as needed. Unfortunately, regarding the current security arrangement in East Jerusalem, this is not the case,” ACRI found.

In 2005, the Israeli housing ministry appointed a public committee to investigate the security arrangement in Israeli settlement compounds in the Old City and East Jerusalem. The committee recommended that responsibility for security be given back to the Ministry of Internal Security and the Israeli police.

Still, while the Israeli government voted in a resolution to implement this recommendation, it shortly thereafter revoked its decision and returned the situation to the status quo.

According to ACRI, the budget for this private system of protection in East Jerusalem has grown from seven million Israeli shekels ($1.8 million) in 1991 to 76 million shekels ($2 million) in 2011, a sum entirely financed by Israeli taxpayers.

“As stated in Article 7 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law’. The decision to operate private security guards, funded by the state, in order to protect one segment of the population, Jewish, from the other segment of the population, Palestinian, clearly violates this principle,” ACRI found.

Privatized murder

In September 2010, Silwan resident Samer Sarhan was shot and killed by a settler security guard. Sarhan’s death sparked violent clashes in the neighborhood between Israeli police and Palestinian youth, while the security guard responsible was never formally charged in the killing.

A settler security guard also shot and killed 17-year-old Milad Ayyash in May of this year, when clashes broke out between Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces near Beit Yonatan, an Israeli settlement compound in Silwan’s Baten al-Hawa neighborhood. The guard claimed Ayyash had been involved in the clashes and that he wasn’t held responsible for his death.

“The settler security guards are like a militia. They can do anything and they have the green light from the state to do anything they want,” Ahmed Qaraeen said.

According to Qaraeen, while limiting the impunity with which settler security guards operate is important, the only way to ensure the safety of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is to dismantle the Israeli settlements there completely.

“The settlers, the guards, the police, they are all the same. They all have weapons. The thing that we need is to get the settlers out of our village. The settlers brought for us problems. They brought for us the police, the security guards,” he said.

“They want the people to be afraid. My children feel that nobody can protect them, not even their father.”

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