An Arab clan war broke out just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem over the weekend, escalating into a full-blown gun battle that claimed the lives of two Arabs and left ten others injured. Residents of the Silwan area, both Jewish and Arab, say they are frightened to leave their houses, and claim police refused to intervene and stop the violence.
Silwan is the Arab neighborhood stretching from the south of the Temple Mount to the facing Armon HaNetziv mountain ridge. It is also the home to the Ir David (City of David) Jewish neighborhood, which numbers around 50 families and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists each year who come to see the Shiloah spring and archaeological garden.
On Friday night, a fight broke out between youths of the Rajabi and Udan-Gawani clan families. The dispute turned into a full-blown war on Saturday night as combatants used automatic rifles and grenades to settle the score.
“It Was Literally Like a War”
“There was automatic fire until three in the morning,” Devorah Adler, a resident of Ir David, told Israel National News. “We took our five small children into our room for protection. No one slept too much."
“It was literally like a war,” she went on. “I think there were hundreds of people shooting. The muazzins [mosque loudspeakers] were blasting all night. People were throwing bottles and rocks. We were all scared."
Devorah’s husband, Yonaton, called the police emergency hotline. “They hung up on me twice,” he said. “I asked them, ‘How do I protect my family? Should we leave our home?’ They told me they couldn’t give me more details and they couldn’t advise us on what do to because they didn’t want to take responsibility for someone getting killed.”
Finally, on the third call, the hotline put him through to a police captain. “He told us to stay in a safe place inside our house, that’s all,” Yonaton said.
“The police did nothing,” he continued. “It's scandalous. This is Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish state, and the police let a gun battle go on a hundred meters south of the Western Wall. After everything quieted down, the police came in and drove around a bit. They threw a few stun grenades, nobody is quite sure why."
Arabs Are Just as Afraid to Leave Homes
Arab residents agreed that police did little to stop the fight. “There are shots being fired from M-16s and other rifles,” Dawud told Kol Yisrael radio, holed up in his home to avoid stray bullets.
“Civilians are shooting at civilians and the police are doing nothing,” he said. “Two clan families are battling each other and the police tell them to break their heads. They are shooting on the street and the police are standing by and watching. There are three jeeps of border police officers doing nothing."
Israel Police Stand By, PA Police Take Action
A report in Yediot Acharonot claimed that Palestinian Authority plainclothes police officers entered the area to try and stop the violence. PA police are officially forbidden from operating in the Jerusalem municipal area, but recent reports indicate that the Israeli police are turning to them for help quieting Arab clan battles in eastern Jerusalem.
“The Israeli police have a policy not to get involved in Arab clan wars,” explained Binyamin Trooper, a member of Ir David’s security committee. “They think they should just let the Arabs kill each other. If they would get involved, they could stop the violence in half an hour, but they’re afraid.”
“This incident is just one in a string of violent fights where the police chose not to get involved,” Binyamin continued. “Three weeks ago a clan war broke out closer to home, in the middle of Ir David. I stayed in a house with a woman stuck in the middle of the battle, just to try and protect her. The police did nothing,” he said.
“Last week, a fight broke out near the top of Ir David,” he continued. “The security guards got involved because a Jewish man was endangered. A few border police officers came, and they stood on the side and watched. They did nothing until they felt their own lives were in danger, then they shot in the air. It’s a pitiful situation.”
The spokesman for Ir David, as well as the head of security at the site, refused to comment on the disturbances. Residents say they fear negative publicity will hurt tourist revenues.
Police: We Acted Quickly to End Voilence
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld painted a different picture of the weeked voilence. He told Israel National News that local and national police units acted swiftly to end the riots and added that forces arrested three people who were involved in shooting. He also said he was unaware of PA police acting in the area.
Rosenfeld added that the police operate on a high level in eastern Jerusalem, and explained that residents are not always aware of the complete extent of police activity to protect them from harm.