Alik Ron: We Weren't Prepared for October Riots (03/09/01)

Alik Ron, commander of the northern police district at the time of the Israeli-Arab riots last October and a focus of Israel-Arab ire, said at Monday's testimony that the police had not been prepared for the intensity of the riots, due to intelligence reports lacking in detail. Ron said that the intelligence reports on the possibility of the riots taking place came in only on the eve of September 31st. However, Justice Or stated that such reports had been delivered to the police in the afternoon of the same day. Ron admitted that "it was possible to foresee that the riots would take place," but said that, "it fell upon us [the police] like a bolt out of the blue." He added that due to lack of content in the intelligence reports, it was difficult for the police to properly assess the situation and take action.

As many as 1,000 police were reported to have been deployed or on alert for demonstrations near the hearings, held at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

The judges criticized him for remarks he made about Arab leaders during the riots. "You wear a uniform, sir. [You are a] public figure. Is it part of your job to address the media with statements against leaders causing the atmosphere to heat up" asked Justice Hashem Khatib.

Ron was asked to explain the deterioration of his connections with Arab MK's, and said that it was the result of a long process, and not an isolated event. He said that the bulk of the blame lay upon the shoulders of, "Knesset members who took part in the riots."

Ron opened the testimony by reviewing riots and demonstrations which had pitted the police and residents of Umm al Fahm and other northern Israel Arab villages since the 1970s. According to Ron, the background was essential to a proper understanding of the October riots.

Ron said Arab residents have in the past attacked policemen who came to quiet down riots or order traffic. Over the years, he stated, "There has been a horrible rise in the violence against policemen." Ron said that this was due to a lack of police manpower. He added that blatant incitement took place in many northern mosques, and that Muslim preachers had referred to slain Jews as "monkeys and pigs."

Several Arabs who lost relatives during the riots, joined by leftists and human rights activists, demonstrated outside the Supreme Court compound.

Ron's testimony is expected to take up the day's session and could well continue through tomorrow. The members of the commission are expected to focus their questions on matters in which Ron was directly involved, such as orders to open fire and details on the use of snipers in response to demonstrators.

Ron's appearance before the panel is expected to conclude seven months of testimony from police. The panel will then focus on hearing testimony from other figures, including politicians. Two weeks ago, MK Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was minister of public security at the time of the riots, was questioned by the committee.