x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Israeli police clash with Arabs

Israeli police and stone-throwing Arabs clash in northern Israel as a group of Jewish right-wing extremists tried to march through the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al Fahm.

Israeli Arabs run for cover during clashes with Israeli police in Umm al Fahm yesterday.
Israeli Arabs run for cover during clashes with Israeli police in Umm al Fahm yesterday.

NAZARETH // Israeli police and stone-throwing Arabs clashed in northern Israel yesterday as a group of Jewish right-wing extremists tried to march through the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al Fahm.

Two Arab legislators were injured in the violence. Afu Aghbaria, an Arab MP with the joint Jewish-Arab Communist party, said he had been hit in the leg.

Haneen Zoubi, a parliament member who has received hundreds of death threats since her participation in an aid flotilla to Gaza in the summer, also was among those hurt.

Ms Zoubi reported being hit in the back and neck by rubber bullets as she fled the area after police opened fire. In an interview with The National, she said she believed that she had been specifically targeted by police snipers after they identified her.

Police denied her claims, saying they had used only tear gas and stun grenades. Some 1,500 police were reported to have been stationed in the town yesterday.

However, Shimon Koren, the northern police commander, said special paramilitary forces had been used against the Arab counter-demonstration, as well as an undercover unit usually deployed at Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

An officer disguised as an Arab demonstrator was among the wounded, apparently after police fired a stun grenade at him by mistake.

Ms Zoubi blamed police for the violence. "The police proved that they are a far more dangerous threat to me and other Arab citizens than the fascist group that came to Umm al Fahm," she said.

The march was organised by far-right groups allied to Kach, a movement that demands the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories. The movement was formally banned in 1994, but has continued to flourish openly among some settler groups.

The organisers said they were demanding the banning of the Islamic Movement, which has its headquarters in Umm al Fahm.

The Islamic Movement's leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has angered Israeli officials by heading a campaign in Jerusalem's Old City to highlight what he says is an attempted Israeli takeover of the Haram al Sharif compound that includes the al Aqsa mosque.

He was also on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza in May, and claimed at the time that Israeli commandos tried to kill him. Nine passengers were killed, some of them from close-range shots to their heads.

The sheikh is currently serving a three-month jail sentence over clashes with the Israeli security forces close to the al Aqsa mosque.

Michael Ben Ari, a former Kach member and now an MP with the rightwing National Union party, who attended the march, said Israel must not be a "stupid democracy and let people who want to destroy us have a voice".

Baruch Marzel, one of the march organisers, told Israel Radio: "If the Kach Party was outlawed, then the Islamic Movement deserves to be outlawed 1,000 times over."

On hearing of Ms Zoubi's injuries, he added: "It was worth going to Umm al Fahm. She is our enemy."

Mr Aghbaria and Ms Zoubi said the clash had been triggered by undercover police who began throwing stones from among the demonstrators - a tactic that the unit has been caught on film using at protests in the West Bank. "If it wasn't for the police, who prepared a provocation in advance, it would all have ended peacefully," Mr Aghbaria told Ynet, a news website.

Police said nine Arab demonstrators had been arrested for stone-throwing.

Four police officers were reported to have received minor injuries. The far-right marchers were escorted away by police, unharmed.

Last night, Arab leaders were considering whether to call a general strike among the Arab minority, a fifth of Israel's population.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae