‘There isn’t a Palestinian male’ in Jerusalem who hasn’t been beaten

Violence by Israeli forces against Palestinian men in Jerusalem has increased after October 7.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera/Jerusalem
Israeli forces were deployed in the thousands in and around the Old City of Jerusalem following Hamas's attack on October 7 [File: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

Damascus Gate, occupied East Jerusalem – Samer and Omar* woke up early on Friday morning, hoping to make it to noon prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Located just 15 minutes away from their homes in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem, the two young friends are among the tens of thousands of Palestinians in the city who attend Friday prayers at the mosque – one of the holiest in Islam.

But when the two arrived at Damascus Gate – the main entrance used by Palestinians to the Old City – they were stopped by Israeli forces.

“Where are you from?” the officer asked Samer and Omar, aged 22 and 28 respectively.

“Issawiya,” they replied.

“Go back to Issawiya and pray there,” the officer told them – a response that multiple Palestinian men said they received as they tried to enter that Friday. While Israeli forces had imposed a strict closure on the Old City since October 7, they have loosened the restrictions slightly the past two Fridays, allowing more people to enter.

The two men, feeling antagonised, turned away and went to grab something to drink from a kiosk opposite the Israeli forces checkpoint. Shortly after, the Israeli officers approached them and told them to leave the area – the most central area for Palestinians in the city – without offering any explanation.

“They started pushing us and then beat my friend with the baton,” Samer told Al Jazeera after the incident. “We tried to say ‘don’t touch us.'”

Omar cursed at the officers, before the latter chased the two men for a distance of about 500 meters (1,640 feet) and beat them with batons.

As the officers ran after the two men, Al Jazeera’s reporter – who was present at the scene – heard one of the Israeli officers say, “Break their legs so that they don’t come back.”

Omar, the 28-year-old, suffered heavier blows than his friend. A strip of the skin on his leg looked as though it had been burned; he was in pain and was not able to walk.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera/Jerusalem/Feb 9 2024
Omar’s leg after he was beaten by Israeli forces on Friday, February 9, after he tried to enter the Old City [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

“They don’t want us here. They want us out of this country, and to forget about the homeland,” said Samer, still frazzled by the beating.

“To be a male in Jerusalem – it’s not a life,” he said. “Just simply existing as a Palestinian male in Jerusalem – that bothers them.”

Yet, the young men say they have no option but to stay strong.

“This is at the end of the day, a military occupation. We will never leave here, no matter what they do,” Samer said, before the two jumped on a bus going back home.

‘Beatings, provocative searches, cursing’

Since October 7, life for Palestinians living under the 57-year Israeli military occupation in Jerusalem has become much more difficult than it already was.

That day, Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel, killing nearly 1,200 people and taking more than 200 others captive. Israel responded with a brutal military campaign, first by air and then on the ground as well, killing more than 29,000 people — mostly women and children — in Gaza, less than 80km (48 miles) away from Jerusalem, over the past four months. Thousands of others are buried under the rubble and presumed dead.

Shortly after the Hamas attack, Israeli forces were deployed in the thousands in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the dozens of neighbourhoods surrounding it. They imposed strict closures and restrictions on movement, in addition to the further isolation of Jerusalem by cancelling all military permits to enter the city for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera/Jerusalem/Feb 9 2024
Israeli forces running after Samer and Omar to beat them on February 9, 2024 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

Young Palestinian men have, in particular, borne the brunt of increased violence and harassment by Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem.

Abu Mohammad*, who runs a store and lives inside the Old City, said that after October 7 – especially during the first few days and weeks – Israeli forces imposed a strict curfew after 5pm.

“No one was allowed to stand in the street after 5pm, even if we live in the Old City. If we did, they would attack us with beatings, provocative searches, cursing at us,” the 30-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Describing the situation today and how violence by Israeli forces unfolds, Abu Mohammad said, “Anytime a male wants to enter the Old City, they get searched.

“A group of soldiers will search this one man. While they are searching you, they hit you with their elbows, with their knees, to provoke you to say something.

“If you say anything, you find them all on top of you, punching you on the head and all over your body. All of a sudden, you need a hospital,” explained Abu Mohammad.

He noted that the Israeli officers “don’t differentiate between older and younger men.”

“I have seen them push elderly men. They don’t care,” he said. “There is no Palestinian male here that hasn’t been beaten,” the father-of-three continued.

‘They went crazy after October 7’ 

Attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinians in Jerusalem have not only targeted residents and passersby. They have also targeted journalists trying to do their jobs.

Mustafa Kharouf, a 36-year-old resident of the city and a photojournalist with the Turkish Anadolu Agency, was severely beaten by Israeli paramilitary officers while reporting on December 15.

Along with a group of journalists, Kharouf had been stationed in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Wadi Joz, which lies close to the Old City. Due to the Israeli ban on Palestinians from entering the Old City and the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, residents have been gathering to pray on the streets of the Wadi Joz on Fridays as an alternative. On many Fridays, Israeli forces fired live ammunition and large amounts of tear gas at worshippers.

As Kharouf and his colleagues were leaving after the prayers had ended, they were stopped by a group of officers who tried to prevent them from moving to a different area nearby to continue reporting.

“We were standing and talking to the officer in charge, when one of the soldiers attacked me suddenly. He started shouting, ‘Get out of here.'”

“I said, ‘Why are you beating me?’ ‘Calm down,’ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ The soldiers on the side, not knowing what is going on, saw him beating me and then decided to join the attack,” continued Kharouf. “I got angry and said, ‘We will meet at the department of investigations against police’ – meaning that I was going to file a complaint against him.”

“They kept beating me – most of the beating was on my head, from the neck up. I said, ‘Shame on you’ to the soldier, before he lifted up his weapon at me and loaded the magazine.

“I started shouting, ‘If I did something wrong, then arrest me! Why are you beating me!’ Then they arrested me. They choked me and pushed me down onto the floor. When I was on the floor, the same soldier came back and started beating me again. They kept beating me as they put the handcuffs on my hands. I couldn’t protect my head any more,” he recounted.

Kharouf was lying on the floor, bleeding heavily, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, with cuts to his head and eyes. In a video capturing the assault, one officer can be seen holding Kharouf down while another dealt one kick after another to Kharouf’s head.

Shortly after, when he refused medical attention, the soldiers decided to remove the handcuffs and let him go. He suffered three stitches on the back of his head and received treatment after his release.

For Kharouf, the violence by Israeli forces against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem – particularly the Old City – is arbitrary and abusive.

“The feeling of being beaten is one thing, but the feeling of degradation is a whole other [thing],” he said. “This type of beating is not about them wanting to hurt you, or about you having done anything wrong – it is about them wanting to humiliate you.

“You feel incapacitated, weak while they are punching and kicking you. The feeling is indescribable.”

After October 7, he said, Israeli forces “went crazy.”

He has decided against trying to enter the Old City or its vicinity. “I haven’t entered the boundaries of the Old City in a month and a half. If you want to go to the Old City today, you have to put your dignity and self-esteem aside.”

*Names of interviewees changed upon their request for fear of retribution. 

Source: Al Jazeera