Around 12:30… I went walking down, with an old friend and a new acquaintance, to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem so that we could take a closer look at the Palestinian homes Israeli settlers had taken over (denoted by the giant Israeli flags hung from each of the buildings). As we approached the road leading to this flashpoint – settler youth sprinted towards us on their way out of the area up toward Nablus Road (in our direction). They were being chased… apparently by police.
We walked into a scene of angry Palestinians shouting up the side road toward two of the settler buildings. From the bottom of the road, we could see some religious settler children staring down. We began asking questions. The explanation we received was that the Palestinians had been attacked by the settlers who were throwing stones at them. Sure enough, I noticed one man lifting another man’s shirt to examine his bruises. I noted how calm and patient he was after being hit in the back with stones.
Later I discovered that earlier that morning settlers had broken into the As-Sabbagh family’s home and attacked them. As we heard more of the story, media began to show up in small numbers. I ran up the side road a bit toward the homes (Israeli settlers & Palestinians now living side by side) and took photos of the commotion that ensued higher up. Then I noticed an angry Palestinian man screaming as he came down. He was limping badly and was blood red in the face. The first policeman on the scene spoke perfect Arabic and calmly reassured the residents, but did nothing else, making no efforts to apprehend any one of the settlers. The limping Palestinian man shouted something to the effect of “You ask us to do nothing, but then they attack us and YOU do nothing. This is what you want from us? You’re not going to protect us? Then don’t complain when we protect ourselves!” I thought this was rather brazen as I couldn’t picture myself shouting at a policeman holding such a large semi-automatic weapon.
He was visibly angry, and when I asked about photographing his leg where he was hit, he brushed me off and continued yelling… uninterested in media attention (I couldn’t blame him, it appeared he was really having trouble walking and clearly the police were doing nothing). Another young policeman, not older than 18 I imagine, sat by idly watching. Each Palestinian resident repeated the same theme “For how long can we sit by while they attack our children and you do nothing? HOW LONG?” or “If we had attacked them, one of us would be in handcuffs if not more… and yet here you sit doing nothing when they attack us. This is the police huh?”
That was when I heard a child crying, and as I walked over to him, I saw why he was crying. At his feet was another child, not more than 12 or 13 but possibly 10 or 11, lying on the ground. As I listened, I realized he too had been hit. At a minimum, I could see his knuckles were bleeding, but I knew there was more to it than that as he wasn’t getting up. He didn’t cry, didn’t shout, he just lay there waiting for help.
That was when I heard what I couldn’t believe… honestly, you read about this kind of thing, but you never realize how serious it is until you hear it for yourself. The policeman called for an ambulance. The ambulance, over the radio, responded by asking in Hebrew “Is it an Arab or a Jew?” Immediately an angry woman (presumably the injured boy’s mother) shouted “OF COURSE! OF COURSE That’s what they ask… Because if he’s an Arab, WHY SHOULD THEY COME?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t understand… Why would an ambulance dispatcher ever pause to ask the ethnicity of an injured child before rushing to pick him up? At that moment, I was overwhelmed and had to step away from the situation. I imagined my own son lying in pain and bleeding, no matter how severe, with an ambulance dispatcher asking in the background for clarity on his religion or ethnicity. I believe that the original dispatcher who asked the police officer about ethnicity was from the Magen David (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross). In the end, two ambulances came, the Red Crescent Society came first (The Red Crescent Society is the Red Cross equivalent in the occupied Palestinian territories). I returned to take photos as the Red Crescent Society arrived to carry the child away.
An old man shouted from the sidewalk about the racism and the theft of Palestinian land and buildings, asking how much longer they would have to endure this and watch as their buildings are taken one by one without any repercussion. I believe he was also shouting about the settlers stealing electricity from Palestinians’ lines, rather than paying for it themselves. On the other side of the road, a settler couple casually walked toward the side road leading up to their (or their friends’) new homes, until a Palestinian man intercepted them and appeared to be threatening them (my friend translated for me). They immediately turned around back toward the main road looking shocked that he would speak to them in such a fashion. In my mind, I condemned him for threatening them, in my heart I realized if I had witnessed all of this and watched people lose their homes, or lost my own, I might not be as kind as him to have used only words.
As the settlers stepped out of their homes for the sabbath, the media rushed them for photos and questions, and the settlers responded with empty phrases, some of which I understood, such as “We are only here for peace.” Of course the police stood between them and the media protecting the settlers and pushing media back.
The settlers began leaving their homes and heading to the main road with a significant police escort.
Eventually, a settler my friend said was fingered as the one responsible for starting much of the trouble, was being escorted out as Palestinian children and the media ran toward him. However, at no point did he appear to be detained and at no point was he handcuffed in any way, shape, or form.
Another of the settlers walked by me with his son, seemingly upset by being photographed (my friend translated his statement to me) and asked why I do not write down the settlers’ side of the story. My friend responded in Hebrew “We will photograph and write down what we want, thanks.”
Further up the road, the settlers had gathered at a certain point with a police car and police protection. They interacted as friends, nothing less.
Afterward, my English colleague asked me “Who would voluntarily subject their children to this kind of thing?” (referring to the Israeli settlers). I couldn’t answer… I didn’t know.
Andrew Kadi is a human rights activist and a member of Adalah-NY: the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East who has written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Electronic Intifada, and other publications.