Israel announces new measures to stop Palestinian attacks


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Under pressure to stem attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved plans to boost police numbers with the deployment of soldiers in Israel’s cities and to increase security checkpoints around Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Government officials also said they would take away the Jerusalem residency permits of terrorists, a move which must be approved by Israel’s Attorney General.

Outside Jabel Mukaber, home to two Palestinian men who conducted an attack which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen others, police checkpoints have already been set up, with other neighborhoods reportedly to follow.

Local residents and human right groups have expressed concerns that these security measures fail to reduce the risk of attacks and instead hamper the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They contend that will increase rather than reduce simmering tensions.

At some locations Israeli police set up concrete roadblocks instead of police search teams. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expressed concern over the use of this tactic which could be longer-term.

“It is ok for the police to curtail freedom of movement for short periods of time for (something) specific. (If) there’s a stabbing on the street it’s acceptable to close the street for a few hours,” Ronit Sela, from ACRI, told The Media Line. Mass unrest such as an ongoing riot could necessitate sealing off a geographic location – a violent incident which was no longer occurring and had been carried out by an individual or small group did not, Sela explained.

Police previously closed off the entrances to whole Palestinian neighborhoods for extended periods of time, beginning last summer when tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

ACRI’s concern is that rather than a targeted security measure the roadblocks are being used as a blanket punitive measure. The human rights organization received reports from community leaders in several different Arab neighborhoods stating that police had informed them checkpoints will continue until disturbances in their area ended, Sela said. The police are holding the neighborhood to account for what the teenagers living there are doing which is effectively collective punishment, the activist said.

Any notion of collective punishment was rejected by Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson.

“After recent terrorist attacks and recent disturbances a number of roadblocks have been set up – they’re temporary. They’re not closing off the neighborhood but they’re there in order to make sure that we can identify any suspicious vehicles,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. Residents in neighborhoods with checkpoints at the entrance could still enter and leave freely, Rosenfeld said, pointing out that such procedures were standard police practice.   

But Palestinians say these moves just make life harder for Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not involved in the violence.

“All the clashes are by teenagers, they don’t have cars and they don’t do attacks using cars. They’re on foot,” Hatem Khwess, a field researcher for the dovish organization Ir Amim and a Palestinian resident of the Mount of Olives, told The Media Line. Police checkpoints, or concrete blocks placed in the road, will not stop the young men involved in the disturbances.

A lack of investment in infrastructure by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods was to blame for the feeling of resentment held by the young generation towards Israeli police, Khwess said. “Look in the classrooms – what’s new?” Khwess argued.

Ir Amim and ACRI have both issued reports about a shortage of classrooms in Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem, and a lack of qualified teachers in some subjects. Israel’s deputy mayor Ofer Berkovich says he is aware of the gaps and the city is working hard to eliminate them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any argument that linked Palestinian violence to frustrations within the Arab community. “Terrorism comes from the desire to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the winter session of parliament.

A motion to deploy army personnel into city centers across Israel was also approved by the Israeli cabinet, something that would represent a step up in security measures. Reports suggest that 300 Israeli Army personnel have been deployed to support police on the ground, though a spokesperson for the military would not comment on this. In Jerusalem’s city center small numbers of soldiers could be seen checking the identification of shoppers and residents, a role normally performed by the border police.

Other measures discussed by the cabinet have been the imposition of a curfew on Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for not only a curfew but the imposition of full military rule in east Jerusalem if further unrest were to take place in the coming days.

Such measures were not likely to lead to an increase in security and could exasperate Palestinian residents, Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. “These are measures which only make it more difficult for people to lead their daily lives (and) have no strategic significance,’ Herschman said. The director went on to say that a more effective short term solution to curbing attacks would be efforts to convince Palestinians that their “collective identity in the city” was not threatened.

 

Jerusalem’s population of 800,000 is about 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Palestinian. Most of the Palestinians are not citizens, but carry the same type of ID cards as Jewish Israelis giving them freedom of movement throughout the city. Almost all of the attackers in the current wave of violence came from east Jerusalem.

IKAR successfully pushes revision of LAPD’s car impoundment policy at DUI checkpoints


Following six months of advocacy work by the congregation of IKAR, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officials announced that they would no longer impound unlicensed drivers’ cars at sobriety checkpoints, a victory for undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain drivers licenses under state law.

Effective immediately, if officers stop unlicensed drivers at checkpoints — which are designed to curb drunk driving, not penalize undocumented immigrants for driving without licenses — the unlicensed driver can call a licensed driver to the scene to take control of his or her vehicle.

“This is a really small but significant step for relieving the burden” of the immigrant population, said Wendy Braitman, a member of IKAR’s Minyan Tzedek team, a social action initiative, referring to the consequences involved with car impoundment: Vehicles are often held for up to 30 days and are costly to retrieve.

Braitman added that this is “an issue that none of us in the Jewish community knew anything about, because it really doesn’t impact us,” but she maintained that it is nevertheless significant.

LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore said the decision “was meant to begin improving the way impounds are done regarding unlicensed drivers. This is part of a larger issue,” he said. “We’re looking at the way we do impounds not only at DUI checkpoints but also at regular traffic stops.”

Still, unlicensed drivers who are stopped will receive a citation, as they did prior to revisions of LAPD’s protocol.

IKAR, working with LA Voice Pico, a coalition of religious organizations, schools and neighborhood organizations, welcomed LAPD’s announcement during a press conference on March 14 at LAPD’s downtown headquarters.

This is “a great moment for IKAR, for our city, and a great step toward a hopefully more expansive policy of enfranchising the marginalized immigrant community in our city,” wrote IKAR’s Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann in a recent e-mail. “This policy is an improvement because it takes us closer to a world in which people are treated with equality and fairness.”

– Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

LAX Security Study Fails to Fly


 

While the Los Angeles mayoral candidates battle over the proposed $11 billion expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, a study completed by the RAND Corp. think- tank on the airport’s security has gone under the proverbial radar.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which runs LAX, plus Ontario, Palmdale and Van Nuys airports, commissioned the RAND study in July to determine the most likely types of terrorist attacks at LAX and what can be done now to minimize casualties. The results were released Sept. 24.

One of the deadliest types of attacks at LAX, according to the study, would be a bomb in the check-in (ticketing) area or curbside near the taxi pickups. Passengers there haven’t gone through any security checkpoints and they are usually crowded together in lines. RAND found that a 5 percent increase in airport check-in and security screening staff could cut casualties in this type of attack by 75 percent.

RAND wrote: “Substantial reduction of lines can be implemented immediately with small changes to airline and TSA staffing policies. This is our strongest recommendation.”

Despite the fact that RAND’s changes could be made immediately and the report was released months before the holiday travel period officially began, LAWA had no comment this week on whether they’ve acted on the recommendation. In the meantime, LAX is expected to handle about 2.8 million passengers between Dec. 17 and Jan. 2.

To its credit, the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) has opened 12 new screening lanes at LAX for the holidays. But why would a terrorist bother to walk all the way to the security queue when he could detonate a bomb just inside the front door near ticketing, where there are fewer guards and bigger crowds? In 2002, a shooting at LAX’s El Al ticket counter took place outside the security checkpoint

So what has LAWA done to convince the airlines to hire more personnel and speed up the lines as RAND recommended? Apparently, the answer is up in the air.

On a Mission

It’s fairly common to see progressive groups blasting the Bush administration’s efforts to weave faith-based programs into government. It’s far more unusual to see these groups battling a Democratic senator.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) introduced a bill recently signed into law (H.R. 1446) that will grant the California Missions Foundation (CMF) $10 million in federal money to repair and restore the 21 Spanish missions in the state. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is suing to stop the legislation.

AU says 19 of the 21 missions are still functioning Catholic churches with active congregations. In essence, the churches would receive millions of taxpayer dollars to renovate their places of worship.

CMF said the missions are “historically significant for reasons that have little to do with Catholicism,” noting that it’s already mandatory for fourth-graders in California public schools to study the buildings.

AU said it doesn’t doubt the historical significance of the missions, adding that if they were simply museums, there would be no problem with the grant.

“If in fact the control [of the buildings] went to the government and not the church officials, that would make a difference,” AU Executive Director Barry Lynn told The Journal.

Boxer and CMF are defending the grant as a secular pursuit, even though the Los Angeles County Seal debacle earlier this year revealed that there is a wealth of public support for maintaining public religious icons in California.

But just as happened during the county seal debate, it’s likely that mission proponents will see no contradiction in defending the importance of a public Christian heritage, while simultaneously saying that the buildings should be interpreted secularly. In fact, CMF’s Web site blames the “wrath of secularization” following the Mexican Revolution (and the American occupation of California) for causing the missions to fall into ruin in the first place.

For more historical context on the nature of these buildings and their proselytizing purpose, a quick reference to the California Native American Heritage Commission is in order: “Despite romantic portraits of California missions, they were essentially coercive religious labor camps organized primarily to benefit the colonizers.”

As of yet, no date has been set for the lawsuit.

Mayoral Race Quotes

The lively and informal Dec. 21 mayoral debate, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, allowed the candidates to jump into a question at any time. The candidates generally agreed with each other on most of the issues, spending more time blasting away at personal character issues. Some quotes:

Bob Hertzberg: “I’m just flabbergasted at the proposal for an $11 billion airport — [a] building where you’ve got one ingress and one egress. If your purpose was to try to eliminate traffic or to avoid a terrorist threat, this is about the dumbest thing anybody could have done.”

State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys): “I stood up to Mayor [Richard] Riordan when he wanted to privatize DWP and sell it to Enron. I think we all know that would’ve been a disaster.”

City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa: “We need to get the Red Line to go down Wilshire Boulevard all the way to ocean. We need to connect the Green Line to LAX and down Lincoln Boulevard to the Expo line. We need to connect the Red Line in North Hollywood to the Metrolink in Sylmar. And if you elect me mayor, that’s what I’m going to do.”

City Councilman Bernard Parks: “I am the only candidate that has proposed an alternative to the [LAX plan] that was adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors — The mayor has an answer for everything but a solution to nothing.”

Mayor James Hahn: “Violent crime is down. Housing production has doubled. We’re changing the direction of the Port of L.A. [with] new technologies to plug ships into electric power [and], I stopped construction of a dirty new coal plant.”

Upcoming debates: Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m., Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana; Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.

 

+