East Jerusalem Tensions Exacerbated by Status of Dead Protester’s Body (with AUDIO INTERVIEW)
Mohammad Samir Obeid was shot and killed during neighborhood disturbances last week, and police are demanding specific conditions before his remains are returned
East Jerusalem Arabs have been clashing with police since Thursday, when Mohammad Samir Obeid was shot and killed during disturbances in the neighborhood of Issawiya.
Palestinians claim the disturbances broke out after police sought to break up a peaceful rally, while media reports have said the police were there to catch members of a suspected local terror cell.
Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for Israel’s national police force, told The Media Line only that there were “police operations that took place in the area of Issawiya” and that “disturbances and riots” broke out as a result.
“Police officers were attacked both by blocks and stones, as well as fireworks that were fired directly at our officers, who were then in a life-threatening situation, and only in life-threatening situations do our officers respond with live rounds.”
The spokesman emphasized that the fireworks were “fired” rather than thrown, indicating that they were launched with a jury-rigged mechanism of some type, whether a slingshot or something more sophisticated that “can shoot and kill our officers at close range.”
Rosenfeld said that a police officer fired a single live round at Obeid, who was taken in serious condition to the nearby Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His body was later removed to Israel’s national forensics laboratory at Abu Kabir.
When authorities refused to hand the body back for fear that a public funeral would only exacerbate the seething tensions, the rioting in Issawiya continued, this time with rocks and firebombs. The unrest quickly spread to other Arab neighborhoods and continued through the weekend, with injuries on both sides and several arrests.
Mohammad Abu Alhomos, an activist in Issawiya, told The Media Line that none of this would have happened if the police had stayed away.
“We spoke with them and asked them to stay out of town until things cooled off,” he said. “They promised they would, but then they stormed the town in a provocative manner.”
Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move that was never recognized by the international community. It sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
In a phone interview with The Media Line, Palestinian Authority Jerusalem governor Adnan Ghaith called on the international community to protest.
“This escalating Israeli attack on the Palestinian presence in the occupied capital comes in the absence of any effective and deterrent response by the international community to the daily violations and crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians, and the failure of the international community to shoulder its responsibilities in providing international protection to the Palestinian people,” Ghaith said.
He added that other Arab countries were “preoccupied with their own problems.”
Obeid’s family turned to a Jerusalem court last week to force the police to return the body. The court sided with the police and rejected the family’s request, although another court hearing is expected.
Nevertheless, the police may have attempted to strike a compromise.
Mohammed Mahmoud, an attorney for the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners and Detainees Affairs Commission, said the police agreed to hold an autopsy in the presence of a Palestinian doctor and then hand over the body to the family, although there would be conditions.
According to Mahmoud, the police said that Obeid “should be buried in the cemetery on Salah a-Din Street [far away from Issawiya] in the evening; only 50 people could attend the funeral; there could be no flags during the funeral and burial; and [the family would have to pay a deposit of] NIS 25,000 [about $7,000] to ensure the implementation of the conditions.”
The family immediately rejected the offer.
Obeid’s father told a crowd that had gathered in the courtyard of his home that even if his son’s body “has to remain in a refrigerator for 20 years,” he will only bury him in Issawiya.
Rosenfeld of the Israel Police refused to confirm or deny that a deal had been offered.
“There are certain conditions – and I’m not going to go into those conditions – which are coordinated closely with the family,” he told The Media Line. “Our intention is to make sure that there are no major riots that could erupt, not just in the area of Issawiya, but also… in other parts of Jerusalem.”
Rosenfeld concluded by saying: “It is significantly important that a local, unfortunate incident… remains a local incident and not a full-scale riot that we don’t want to [see] take place in Jerusalem, especially in other neighborhoods which are quiet and calm.”
There is no word yet on the outcome of a second court decision on the matter, nor when one can be expected, although a higher court had reportedly been scheduled to consider the family’s request for the body’s return on June 30.
In the following audio interview, Israel Police Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld speaks to The Media Line’s Lawrence Rifkin.