At the mercy of Israel in East Jerusalem
JERUSALEM - Shortly before dawn on October 18th, Huda Darwish, 65, awakened her husband pleading for help, saying she couldn’t breathe properly.
Mohammed Darwish quickly telephoned his son, Youssef. “Bring your car quickly. We must take your mother to the hospital,” the father urged.
His mother started choking as Youssef sped towards the closest hospital, which was just outside their village of Al-Issawiya in north-east Jerusalem. With him were his father and brother Kareem.
There were about 100 vehicles ahead of them at the village’s entrance waiting to cross an Israeli checkpoint recently set up to separate Jewish neighbourhoods from the disputed traditionally Arab eastern sector of the city.
“Cars let them pass but when they arrived at the roadblock, Israeli soldiers fired shots in the air, warning them not to come closer,” Marhan Darwish, another brother, said.
While Kareem tried to resuscitate his mother, Youssef pleaded with the soldiers to allow them to pass, Marwin Darwish said.
“My brothers shouted that they had an emergency that my mother is sick and needed instant medical attention but the Israeli soldiers refused and ordered my two brothers to leave the car, put their hands up in the air and place their feet apart,” he said.
“Meanwhile, my mother died in the car.”
An autopsy determined that Huda Darwish died of heart failure, according to hospital officials.
Darwish’s is one of scores of cases of hardship endured by Palestinians recently as Israel sealed off Jerusalem neighbourhoods with cement barriers to protect Jews living there and stem Palestinian violence in the communities.
In all, 19,000 Palestinians are under Israel’s mercy as it isolates Jerusalem’s Arab neighbourhoods. The Israeli moves have turned Al- Issawiya, like many other Arab villages around Jerusalem, seemingly into one big prison.
Palestinians entering or leaving Al-Issawiya queue for two hours before they are thoroughly searched. Entry restrictions are not limited to a certain age or sex. Young students, women, men and the elderly are all subject to the same restrictions, which they see as “collective punishment”.
Al-Issawiya’s four entrances were blocked off with cement barriers on October 18th. Israeli soldiers set up makeshift checkpoints for Palestinians to pass through as instructed by Israel’s security cabinet. The moves effectively separated Al-Issawiya from the adjacent neighbourhoods of Sur Baher, Jabel al-Mukaber and the Old City of Jerusalem.
The decision came shortly after the security cabinet permitted Israeli soldiers to “impose a closure on, or to surround, centres of friction and incitement in Jerusalem, in accordance with security considerations”, Israeli media reported.
On October 19th, local, national and Islamic factions in Al-Issawiya announced a general strike to protest the Israeli roadblocks and delays they said caused Darwish’s death and the Israeli encroachment of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.
The Israeli cabinet said it approved placing cement barriers around Al-Issawiya because it overlooks the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim’s road. It said the barrier will prevent Palestinians from throwing rocks at passing vehicles.
The restrictions followed Israeli claims that five stabbings or attempted stabbings by Palestinians took place October 17th in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Mohammed Abu al-Hummus, an Al-Issawiya town committee member, said villagers “didn’t attack anyone”. He said two villagers who died were Fadi Alloun, 19, and Darwish.
“Both didn’t pose any threat,” he said. Alloun was seen in a video seeking help from Israeli police while being chased by armed Jewish settlers. Instead of helping, police shot him, Abu al-Hummus added.
Even though the village has been relatively calm since Darwish’s death, Abu al-Hummus said all entrances to the village remain blocked and access to the village is “extremely difficult”.
Palestinian families in all Jerusalem neighbourhoods have suffered from increasing Israeli restrictions for several months. At the beginning of October, Palestinians from the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip took to the streets to protest what they regard as official Israeli attempts to divide al-Aqsa mosque to allow Jewish prayers at the site, also revered by Jews.
Clashes ensued. The Palestinian Health Ministry said on October 22nd that Israeli forces killed 57 Palestinians, including 12 children, a pregnant woman and her 2-year-old and caused hundreds of injuries with bullets or tear gas. Eight Israeli settlers have been killed in Palestinian stabbings or gun attacks.
Al-Issawiya residents said Israeli restrictions do not reinforce security. “The Israelis want to humiliate us, collectively, punish everyone living in Jerusalem and tighten their control of Palestinian neighbourhoods,” Mahran Darwish said.
“I went through many checkpoints in the West Bank but I’ve never witnessed this level of humiliation,” he said, noting that soldiers mock, provoke and yell at Palestinians.
Hani al-Issawi, a member of a local committee established to defend Al-Issawiya, accused Israeli police of cracking down on residents. “Israeli soldiers raid our houses at night to detain our youth,” he said. “They blow up doors and break into the houses while the families are asleep.
“Israel has turned the village into a big prison.”