Samer Kassem

Israeli riot police violence during Salame 6 eviction

In the summer of 2011, the ‘social justice protest’ swept the country. In Jaffa, where the housing problem is particularly acute, especially among working class Palestinian families, a protest camp was set up in the city’s “Gaza Park” housing a few homeless Palestinian families. One of those families was Samer’s. As he was searching for a more permanent solution in preparation for the rainy season, he and his family squatted in an abandoned building on Salame street. However, the property’s owner called the police to evict the family. A large police force showed up on the scene in the middle of the day, and proceeded to evict the family, using excessive force, brutalizing Samer in front of his small children. He was subsequently arrested and required medical care. A complained filed at his behalf at internal affairs was later dismissed, concluding police officers’ conduct was ‘appropriate.’

“My dad… where’s my dad?” I’m being asked by Tamer, Samer’s (34) son. How am I supposed to explain to a five year old that he father has been arrested? Yet he surely knows. He was there. He saw it all: the violence, the beatings, the kicks; his father lying helpless on the ground as a group of ruffians mercilessly beat him up.
Samer, a father of four, arrived to the Jaffa encampment about six weeks ago, after his mother, who has supported him, passed away. A week ago, the tent where the family resided was burnt down, and Samer was searching for another solution. A few weeks prior, his sister Zanam invaded an abandoned apartment on 6 Salameh street, where an adjacent apartment also stood empty. Samer and his family decided to squat it.
4.10.2011, 3:45p. Large forces of riot police arrive in order to focibly evict three squatting families at 6-8 Salameh street. The police officers arrive without social workers or female officers. As soon as the forces approach the building, Samer holds on to his daughter Diana and runs inside with her. The officers follow him, tackle Samer and his daughter and start hitting Samer.
“Go away!” an officer attempts to drive me away. I just stand there helpless, unable to do anything. But there, I found a corner from where I can continue shooting. I am appalled by what I see through my camera. Samer is lying on the floor, and his daughter Diana is on his stomach, one officer grabs his head while the other punches his face. A kick, and another punch, and Diana is taken away. An officer is holding Diana while at the same time kicks her father, as three more officers hold him down. Another kick to his ribs, and now he’s cuffed; an elbow hit his face.
Ismahan (32), Samer’s wife, is crying. Her breath is laboured. Her children embrace her, crying as well, calling out for their father. An officer tells them to stop making a drama. In the meantime, their belongings are being loaded into a truck. “where are these things going? back to the Jaffa encampment. How will I get organized? where is Alon? what about our things? it might rain today,” says Ismahan. A few volunteers arrive. We managed to find a temporary shelter and another small tent. We clean the tent, waterproof the shelter and bring their belongings inside.
I drive to the police station with Wafaa (50), Samer’s sister and Samira Qadi, an activist with Tarabut and the Jaffa encampment. It is already 8p. The receptionist informed us that Samer and Zanam are under arrest and have not yet been interrogated. This may take hours. It is now 10p. We are told they will be arraigned tomorrow. I try to find an attorney for them, and Ari Shamai volunteers. We go back to the encampment. Yudit Ilani from the Jaffa popular committee and Ismahan arranged their belongings and now they have a place to sleep.
Diana can’t sleep at night. She’s afraid, and holds on tight to her mother before falling asleep again. Then she wakes up again and asking for her father. Ismahan is not feeling well herself and gets sick. Yudit returns to check on them.
Tel Aviv courtroom. Ari Shamai, Samer and Zanam’s attorney watches the footage with horror. The arraignment begins. Samer and his sister are charged with making threats and assaulting a police officer. The judge rules: restraining order from the property at Salameh street for 30 days as well as bail.
Both are now released. Samer’s face is swollen, his left eye is black and blue, both his arms are bandaged and he complains about sore ribs. He tells us his whole body is aching and that he spent the bulk of the previous night at the emergency room, until about 5am.

Diana glances at me curiously, smiling shyly. I doubt she even remembers who I am. Samer tells me the fear, anxiety and night terrors she suffered from have dissipated by now.
It’s a small apartment: two bedrooms, a living room. A very small space that is home to seven. High voltage electric cables are right over the building, but Samer says he is happy, that living conditions are an improvement over the Jaffa tent encampment and that things are better now that he works construction and receives aid in rent from Amidar.
Two years ago today large forces of Israeli riot police raided a building in 6-8 Salameh street in order to evict three families that squatted there. As soon as the policemen approached the family, sitting outside the house, Samer grabbed Diana and rushes into the building. The policemen follow suit, tackles them until both Samer and Diana are on the ground, and then they beat up Samer.
The media reported about this inexcusable violence, MKs came to visit and pose for photo-ops with Samer at the tent encampment and the police announces an investigation of the violence by the internal affairs department.
Indeed following the incident, I was contacted by the department of internal affairs; I testified and handed over the footage. When I asked the investigating officer about the chances of laying criminal charges against the policeman who assaulted Samer he responded such chances are quite high.
However, that case was closed. About a year ago Samer received a letter informing him of that decision, adding the policeman in question will be brought before the police disciplinary board, and that he, Samer, may appeal this decision. Nawal Khoury, an attorney who works with Darna (the Jaffa popular committee) followed up with a request to receive all the materials from the investigation but has never been granted a response.
I can’t help but wonder: would the police officers had used the same amount of excessive force had it not been a Palestinian family? Had Samer been the son of an MK or a judge, would the officer in charge been able to keep his job? would internal affairs reach the same questionable decision?
And why should one expect those sent out to perform a task would be held accountable, since the core of the problem is not the violent police officer but myself. I documented the whole incident. If it weren’t for me, who would have believed Samer, since the police claimed he was the one who assaulted the officers. The police indeed learn the lesson and arrived at the necessary conclusions to prevent another similar incident: every time I attempt to document police brutality with my camera (especially during protests), my lens is blocked by a literal ‘blue wall’ of officers who obstruct my view.

On my way back home I drove by the building at 6-8 Salameh street; A billboard announced: “Nova Residences, Life Style, Tel Aviv.”

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