Thousands of Israeli Arabs took to the streets Saturday in an angry protest after video footage showed police fatally shooting a 22-year-old Arab who appeared to be retreating when he was shot dead.
Dozens burned tires and hurled rocks and firebombs toward police on major highways in northern Israel, with some waving Palestinian flags and calling for a violent uprising against the state. Police said there were a series of violent outbursts throughout the country, including one in which two people were slightly injured by a stone thrown at a bus that shattered its window.
Outraged by the police shooting, Arab community leaders in Israel called for a strike Sunday and planned to continue protests. Police said they would increase deployment to prevent further outbursts. The tensions in the north come in addition to those in Jerusalem where Palestinians from the eastern part of the city have been clashing almost daily with police over access to a shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Saturday’s anger erupted after an early morning incident in the Arab village of Kfar Kana in northern Israel. Police said officers opened fire against a knife-wielding man attempting to stab policemen. Unknown-sourced footage later appeared to portray a different story. The grainy security camera material showed a man repeatedly banging on the window of a police vehicle. When officers emerged to confront him, he began to backpedal and was then shot. Police evacuated him to hospital where he died.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the police’s internal investigations department was investigating the incident to determine whether proper protocol was followed. The department is a civil, independent unit outside the chain of command that answers to the Attorney General.
Samri said a police cruiser was in the village seeking to arrest a man who had hurled a stun grenade at police. She said a relative of the suspect, 22-year-old Heir Hamdan, then confronted police and tried to stab them, putting their lives in danger.
However, the footage, allegedly taken from a closed circuit security camera, shows events unfolding differently. It depicts the man making several stabbing motions with an object against the vehicle’s windows while policemen were inside. Once they stepped out, he took a few steps back before being shot. Samri said the whole matter was under investigation and that police would not comment further until they had specific findings.
Arab leaders, however, blamed police. Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi called it a “mafia-style killing,” while others said the man was shot dead only because he was Arab.
Following the Jewish Sabbath, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a statement that appeared to back police and condemn the protests.
“Whoever does not honour Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
Arabs make up about 20 per cent of Israel’s 8 million residents and, unlike their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hold citizenship rights. But they often complain of being treated as second-class citizens. Most don’t serve in the military, which is mandatory for Jews, and many Jews consider them disloyal for sympathizing with the country’s enemies.
In Jerusalem, police said stones were hurled at the city’s light rail, the latest in a series of near daily incidents linked to escalating tensions over the walled, hilltop plateau known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.