Living in Jerusalem, one can almost forget that there is a conflict and an occupation going on. But in the blink of an eye, the reality of the situation can rear its ugly head. One such reminder occurred recently right outside the EAPPI office, driving home the reality of what it can be like to be a Palestinian even in Jerusalem.
My Swedish colleague, Klaus, and I had just come out of our morning briefing and were on the way to our rooms to pick up some things for our next appointment. We were crossing from our offices to the other side of the road where the guest house is located when we heard a loud commotion. We looked down the hill to where the noise was coming from and saw a man clinging to an iron fence while three Border Policemen were trying to pry his hands loose. We both rushed down the hill to see what the problem was.
We were astonished when we realized that we knew this unlucky individual. It was Murad†, who works in the building where our Jerusalem office is located. Klaus and I tried to talk to the policemen, but they ignored us completely and kept shouting something in Hebrew. These three officers continued trying to extricate Murad from the fence and into their military jeep.
Murad looked absolutely petrified and he was turning blue with fear. The shouting grew louder and the sight of machine guns loomed ominously. We didn”t know what to do so we backed off. Murad finally gave in to the fatigue and was taken into custody. As soon as the jeep disappeared down the hill, Tom Connors†, Murad”s boss, ran out of the office building. Tom was sure that Murad”s work documents, his "papers," were all in order. Palestinians from the occupied territories need special documents in order to work in Jerusalem; otherwise they are subject to arrest.
Later, as Klaus and I were rushing to our appointment in a taxi, we discussed the overpowering feelings of guilt we felt about our helplessness in such a desperate situation. Just at that moment, Tom called asking us to meet him at the police station so that we could be witnesses for Murad”s defence. We welcomed the opportunity to come to his aid.
Robert†, who also works for Tom and is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, was already waiting for us when we got to the police station. He told us that the police were charging Murad with assault of the law enforcement officers. "That”s a lie," I said to myself. We saw the incident and, more importantly, we know Murad. Hitting a police man? Never! We went to the entrance and asked to see Murad but they only let Robert go in after a thorough check of his papers.
So, Klaus and I waited outside for Tom. He eventually arrived and we went to the entrance together. "No way!" shouted the policeman. "The man you arrested is my employee, I must see him," said Tom. "No, you can”t. Go, just go!" he shouted in response. His behaviour was just like that of the three officers who took Murad away. "Can I see your superior officer?" Tom asked. "I am the superior officer!" he replied. This seemed to be a blatant lie since the superior officer would not be guarding the entrance. Tom decided to use another approach and called his attorney.
We waited outside for about 40 minutes, the young policemen continually looking at us from inside. It must have been a rare sight to see three foreigners standing outside of the police station. Then, Murad came out with Robert, looking tired but smiling. "I threatened to bring serious charges against the police, and told them that I had two witnesses who saw it all," Robert said in explaining the startling turn of events.
I have never personally seen any police force act so ruthlessly and without any regard for individual rights in my life. "It”s like a bad comedy — a caricature of a police state," Klaus said. But we saw it all happen right in front of us.
† Names changed for this report