The top European Union envoy to the Palestinians expressed concerns over violence in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, which has been wracked by near-nightly security raids in recent months.
“The European Union is concerned about the worrying developments and violence in [Issawiya],” Tomas Niklasson, the acting head of the EU representative office to the Palestinians, said in a statement publicized on Tuesday.
“Responsible actors on the ground should show calm and restraint in order to prevent any escalation,” he said.
Community leaders have argued that the police have unreasonably stepped up its operations in Issawiya over the past several months and employed excessive force against residents, undermining stability and stoking tensions in the neighborhood.
Police officials, however, have pushed back against the charges, asserting that the heightened operations in Issawiya directly correlate with what they describe as increased violence emanating from the neighborhood.
Niklasson and other European diplomats toured the neighborhood on Monday, where they met residents and representatives of non-governmental organizations, the EU’s website said.
Issawiya, with a population of more than 18,000 Palestinians, is sandwiched between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus, the French Hill and Route 1, the primary highway that connects Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.
The neighborhood suffers from a major shortage of zoning plans and building permits, inadequate sanitation services, a lack of public spaces for recreation and insufficient classrooms, among other issues, according to Amy Cohen, a spokeswoman for Ir Amim, an Israeli advocacy group that closely monitors East Jerusalem.
Since May, the police have raided over 500 homes in Issawiya and arrested more than 600 residents — only about 20 of whom were indicted, Mohammed Abu Hummus, a member of the neighborhood’s Parents Committee, said in an interview last week.
Locals, meanwhile, have lately stepped up violence against police officers, according to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“We have recently dealt with many severe incidents in Issawiya including local residents throwing petrol bombs at Route 1 and attacking police with fireworks, Molotov cocktails and stones,” he said in an interview in December, stating that two police cars regularly patrol the neighborhood, with Border Police and the elite Yasam reconnaissance unit providing back-up during clashes.
“Our activities are a direct response to the major increase in violence that we have seen there,” he said at the time.
Niklasson also stated that Israel “has an obligation to protect and fulfill the rights of the child, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces.”
School heads in Issawiya have complained over the past months that police officers have operated in the neighborhood while students commute to and from classes.