Israel's Border Police entering East Jerusalem schools in search of stone-throwers

12:00 Mar 21 2012 East Jerusalem

Christian organizations dispatch volunteers to accompany children to school, following reported attempts by Border Police to arrest kids off the streets.

By Oz Rosenberg for Haaretz

Last Monday a Border Police unit swept into a high school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud and arrested the vice principal, Salah Muhazian, in front of a classroom filled with students. He was walked by the officers through the school corridors to a waiting jeep outside and brought to Jerusalem police headquarters for questioning.

During his interrogation officers told Muhazian that a student of his who had been arrested a few days earlier for throwing stones told them Muhazian had hidden him and other stone-throwers in his office. Muhazian was released after the interview.

I don't know what they wanted from me," he said this week, added that he thought the Border Police might have come to the school with the aim of scaring the students. "They wanted to deter them from making trouble," Muhazian said.

"This is about the fourth time they've done it over the past year," he said. "They come into the school, search classrooms and bathrooms for suspects."

Palestinians in East Jerusalem complain of increasing Border Police harassment of their children. Officers regularly entering schools to carry out arrests and improvised line-ups, they say, as well as picking up children during patrols in Arab quarters of the city.

Parents say children are also harassed outside the school itself. Abed Shaludi related that his wife phoned him one day last week at work and told him their 12-year-old son, Omar, had been picked up by a Border Police patrol.

"She said the boy came home very upset, he told her two patrol jeeps picked him up with his friends on their way home."

The boys told Haaretz that the jeep pulled over, the rear doors opened and officers tried to snatch them while the jeep moved slowly.

"Only when the kids begged were they released," said Mohammed Abu Hasan, whose son was in the group. "We've been suffering from these actions for quite a while."

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, a Christian nongovernmental organization, recently dispatched volunteers to to accompany children to and from school in response to requests from parents in East Jerusalem.

According to Fares Khoulas, chairman of the Ras al-Amud parents committee, a few days before Muhazian's arrest Border Police officers entered the school in an effort to identify suspects after stones were thrown at them nearby. Khoulas said the officers barged into the principal's office and told the principal, Salah Ahwar, they had followed one of the culprits inside.

"Ahwar asked them on what basis they identified him, and they replied that it was according to his footprints," Khoulas said. "They demanded to go through each classroom and check each student's shoes." Ahwar consented.

"The kids stood up, frightened, put their books down and each reached out a foot for the soldier to look at," Khoulas said. The suspect was apparently never found.

The Border Police said in a statement: "All the reported incidents were preceded by stone-throwing. The offenders exploited their proximity to educational institutions to find refuge in them."

In response to allegations by the school that the Education Ministry did not get involved, the ministry said in a statement: "The police searches were coordinated with the schools' principals and the officers were not in uniform."
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