The Supreme Court on Tuesday indicated it would uphold government funding for private security companies guarding dozens of Jewish compounds in East Jerusalem, rebuffing an appeal by local Palestinian residents and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The Housing Ministry currently employs two private security companies to guard 70 Jewish compounds located within Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at an annual cost of NIS 67 million ($19 million). According to ACRI, 370 security guards are tasked with guarding 2,500 Jewish residents in these neighborhoods.
The outsourcing of security for Jewish compounds in East Jerusalem dates back to the early 1990s, when private contractors were employed to guard the home of then-housing minister Ariel Sharon in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Ongoing friction between the security guards and local Palestinian residents, sometimes escalating to armed violence, led a government-appointed committee in 2006 to recommend transferring security responsibility from the Housing Ministry to the police. The recommendation was initially adopted by the government but overturned four months later.
In its petition, ACRI argued that security in East Jerusalem should be placed solely in the hands of the police, claiming that armed private security companies unlawfully carry out policing duties such as neighborhood patrols. In September 2010, Silwan resident Samer Sarhan was shot dead by a security guard in a case still being debated in court.
The state, acting as defendant in the case, argued on Tuesday that the prerogatives of the security companies do not amount to policing and are limited primarily to static defense of residential homes. An average of 140 violent incidents a month in East Jerusalem justify the existence of enhanced state-funded security, the state added, noting that guards are legally and professionally subordinate to the police.
Declining to discontinue the activity of the security companies, the three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice Asher Grunis proposed establishing an arbitration body within the Housing Ministry to deal with complaints against security guards on a case-by-case basis, a proposal ACRI seemed inclined to reject. Justice Grunis said that if ACRI refuses to accept the compromise proposal within 48 hours it is likely to lose the case.
Mazen Odeh, a 29-year-old resident of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem and one of the petitioners in the case, said he had little hope in the court ruling in favor of the Palestinians. In June 2010 Odeh was shot in the leg by guards protecting the Jewish compound of Beit Yonatan in Silwan. Never questioned by police, Odeh was nevertheless recognized by the National Insurance Institute as a terror victim.
“The court is biased toward the settlers and their guards,” Odeh told The Times of Israel. “The state and the court are effectively telling the settlers: ‘Kill Arabs and we are with you, we will acquit you.”