Officials allegedly suppress news of E. Jerusalem violence
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Officials allegedly suppress news of E. Jerusalem violence

Light rail CEO says police told him not to report incidents to the press; mayor ‘angered’ that train officials spoke to media

Israeli police face off against Palestinians in East Jerusalem after the funeral of teenager Mohammed Sinokrot, 16 (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli police face off against Palestinians in East Jerusalem after the funeral of teenager Mohammed Sinokrot, 16 (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Jerusalem police and the Housing Ministry have been attempting to cover up violent incidents in East Jerusalem, according to the CEO of Jerusalem’s light rail and a ministry official.

Police requested that CityPass not report rock throwing attacks against the light rail because it harms police and encourages the offenders, CityPass CEO Yaron Ravid told Israel Radio, which reported Tuesday that there have been no reports to the media by police or CityPass of violent attacks against the light rail over the last two weeks even though numerous incidents have occurred. Throughout the day Tuesday, the train was attacked by rock throwers three times.

When contacted for a response, police acknowledged that there had been 13 instances of attackers throwing rocks at the train and two arrests, one of which resulted in an indictment. In addition, police said, 75 people have been arrested on suspicion of rioting.

“Ongoing efforts require patience and persistence and are already proving themselves,” the police said in a statement. “Jerusalem Police will continue its operation against rioters, which will lead to a decrease in incidents and quiet in the area.”

The alleged directive against reporting violent incidents has not been limited to the light rail, according to an official from the Housing Ministry, who was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that guards employed by the ministry have been instructed not to report rock throwing incidents in East Jerusalem in order not to discourage Jews from living in mixed neighborhoods.

The Housing Ministry responded that there has been a 20 percent uptick in incidents of rioting over the past several months, but in the last several days there has been a slight decrease.

Last week, however, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters in Jerusalem that there had been a 30% decrease over the past two months in attacks involving rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The allegations come two weeks after a recording of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat surfaced in which he accused CityPass of unnecessarily publicizing violent events that resulted in no injuries.

“I, the Transportation Ministry, and the police are very angry at [the light rail officials],” Barkat was heard saying in the recording of a City Council meeting. “The train is the safest mode of transportation in the city, and there are zero injuries.”

Nir Barkat, October 23, 2013 (photo credit: Walla screenshot)
Nir Barkat, October 23, 2013 (photo credit: Walla screenshot)

In the recording, the mayor went on to assert that the city’s police and the municipality’s network of security workers were in complete control of the volatile situation.

“The [light rail officials] needlessly scare the passengers… [but] the police are there, the security guards as well,” he said. “[And] the fact is, despite the shattered windshields, no one was hurt.”

Barkat stressed that he was not attempting to divert attention from the hurling of rocks at Jerusalem’s residents, but said he felt that discussing such incidents in media outlets rather than with authorities did not help in resolving the problem.

“I trust the police, [and] this discourse is better off if it is not in the media,” he continued. “We are not avoiding anything. The prime minister is concerned about the issue and the public security minister is concerned about the issue, and the police commissioner and the district commander and me, and all of us, [but] we have only one police force; you cannot replace it.”

Following the publication of the recording, Barkat stressed that he believed security forces must respond in a “harsh and uncompromising manner to any instances of violence carried out by rioters” in the capital. In a statement to The Times of Israel, the mayor further said he sought to “end the policy in which the courts release the rioters quickly and without severe punishment.”

Barkat added that it was “inconceivable for the the light rail operators to halt the train’s movement of their own accord and against the opinion of the police, damaging both the residents of Jerusalem and our sovereignty over the city.”

He called for the public to “differentiate between the publication of official facts by the police, and the demagoguery and erroneous publication driven by financial interests [which] fuel the fires and hurt the residents of the city” — presumably a veiled reference to CityPass.

Graffiti reading 'Price Tag. Death to Jews' is seen spray-painted on what remains of a Light Rail station which has been vandalized by Palestinians in the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, Jerusalem, July 2014. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Graffiti reading ‘Price Tag. Death to Jews’ is seen spray-painted on what remains of a Light Rail station which has been vandalized by Palestinians in the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, Jerusalem, July 2014. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The capital’s light rail train system has faced disruptions as a result of vandalism and riots that have erupted sporadically since the brutal killing of 16-year-old Shuafat resident Muhammed Abu Khdeir in early July, allegedly by Jewish extremists avenging the killings of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank a month earlier. Frequent occurrences of rock and firebomb throwing at the light rail have damaged cars and left some of them unfit for use.

16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager whose burned body was found Wednesday, July 2 in the Jerusalem Forest (photo credit: AFP via family handout)
16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager whose burned body was found Wednesday, July 2 in the Jerusalem Forest (photo credit: AFP via family handout)

Hundreds of East Jerusalem residents have been arrested by police in the aftermath of such riots.

Following the death of another East Jerusalem teen, Mohammed Sinokrot, shot by police during a demonstration a month ago, Aharonovitch, the public security minister, said Jerusalem’s security forces were to get reinforcements to combat the rise in violence in the city’s eastern neighborhoods.

Aharonovitch did not provide details about the type of reinforcements the city would receive.

Lazar Berman and Liz Shenn contributed to this report.

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