JERUSALEM, September 13 (JMCC) - Inside Jerusalem
’s Old City walls, the narrow passageways gleam with gold trinkets, Turkish carpets, spices, leather sandals - the wares of market stalls catering to the crush of tourists. In garish yellow hats, groups follow behind tour operators who hold a pink umbrella beacons.
On nearly every corner a police or military man slumps, one knee bent, heavy boot against the wall, eying the scene. For most tourists, noticing the rifle slung over his shoulder, or the beating stick at his side, is the first and last thought they will give to Old City politics. This is simply security.
Azmi Dana sits outside the linen cloth store that his family has owned for three generations. The expression on his face, weathered with age, darkens as he explains that, for Palestinians, the Old City’s security apparatus is a continual trauma.
“The police, they bother Palestinians too much. They stop young men and demand to see their ID, they ask them, trouble them and make everything bad for them,” he says in broken English.
Said Khalidi is from a prominent Palestinian family that has been influential in Old City for hundreds of years. The director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies grew up among the old city’s archways.
The Israeli police are a constant source of unease for many of the centers’ visitors he says, and often, for himself as well. This is due to strict security procedures that make everyday life more complex.
“Their military is not for the security of Palestinians, he says. It is no doubt for the Jewish settlers and their supporters,” describing a discriminatory system at work.
Huda Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies, has worked in the Old City for many years. She explains how social traditions and the emergence of an informal Palestinian civil society are compensating for the lack of trust in the formal security system.
If a crime is committed, even if it is unrelated to settlers or Israelis, the Palestinians “wouldn’t go to the police,” she says. “I go to people who are in the neighborhood. There is an underground network of security for Palestinians in every neighborhood.”
This ad hoc security functions through a close-knit community. Asking three Palestinians at random for the house of Ali Jeddeh, or ‘Abu Mohammed’ as many know him, takes me across town and to his front door.
The low green-painted door opens to a small house shaded by a pomegranate tree in a quiet hidden courtyard near the al-Aqsa mosque. Jeddah explains that the Arab tradition of atweh is still used in the Old City:
“Ninety percent of people don’t go to the Israeli police, most cases are settled from the inside,” he says. “If there is a problem between two families, each family will choose a well known social figure. These people will sit, talk and try to settle the issue between both sides.”
Jeddeh was recently called in to settle a local dispute. Keeping their identities anonymous, he tells me: “Someone was in debt to someone for 15,000 NIS. It was for a car. The man in debt, for one and a half years ignored the other side. The man who had to restore his money did everything, but nothing happened so he contacted me. I spoke to the person, this issue is resolved, and he gave back the money”.
Traditionally, this is how disputes are often solved in the Arab world confirms Jeddeh, but here it is used as a means of avoiding the Israeli authorities. They could have gone to the police, but on a social level this is not accepted,” he says. “We are not dealing with our own police; we are dealing with the occupation.”
The policing powers of the Palestinian Authority
are restricted to Areas ‘A’ of the West Bank
by the Oslo Accords
. Sources say that nonetheless there is a presence of the Palestinian secret police in the Old City. Both secret police forces, the preventative security and intelligence branches, have observers in the city. Their identity is carefully hidden from Israeli forces. Their role is to monitor Palestinians for signs of political dissent, as much as the Israelis.
Khalidi believes it is important not to overestimate the effectiveness of “informal” security networks, however. They are mainly based on protection of individuals through family connections.
“These networks are neither official nor well-organized, and therefore one cannot say they are too effective, mainly because these networks are operating under occupation military laws,” he says.
Much of the difficulty says Khalidi, comes from the lack of political, municipal and social representation of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
He remembers when efforts were made by the late Faisal Husseini to create an alternative body serving as an East Jerusalem municipality, only to be “shut down by Israeli authorities.”
While the occupation is less evident in Jerusalem, thus capturing less international attention, he says, it is strongly felt in the lives of of East Jerusalem Palestinian residents.”