umm al-fahm
An undercover police officer pointing a weapon at protesters who were throwing stones during clashes in Umm al-Fahm yesterday. Photo by Reuters
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Itzik Ben-Malki
Demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm fleeing a smoke grenade fired by police after clashes broke out in protest of a right-wing march. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki

Residents and police clashed yesterday in Umm al-Fahm as far-right activists staged a march in the predominantly Arab city. Despite efforts by the police and municipality not to be dragged into a conflict, nine people, including four minors, were arrested, and two Knesset members and five police officers were injured.

The right-wingers, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Marzel and MK Michael Ben Ari, arrived in the city in armored buses, to protest against what they said was the Islamic Movement's support for terrorism. Local residents, led by public figures in the Arab community, local councilmen, left-wing activists, representatives of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta ultra-Orthodox sect and MKs, staged a counter-protest several hundred meters away, separated by a thick cordon of police.

Umm al-Fahm municipal officials said ahead of the march that they have no intention of yielding to the "radical rightist provocation" and allow themselves to be dragged into a violent confrontation. As a result, and unlike during a similar march a year and a half ago, no general strike was declared, students went to school as normal and everyday business continued in the city uninterrupted. In the morning, Mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamdan made a personal appeal to residents who began to gather at the protest site to maintain calm "for the good of the city."

However, a few minutes later several young people found an undercover policeman in their midst, one person threw a stone at the police and the situation exploded into a riot. Dozens of special patrol unit policemen opened fire with gas and shock grenades, quickly dispersing the small crowd. Young people, who appear to have prepared facemasks and balaclavas ahead of the events, began throwing stones at the police, who once again responded with a volley of gas and shock grenades.

Two Knesset members, Afu Aghbaria (Hadash ) and Hanin Zuabi (Balad ), were injured in the fracas, as were five policemen and some of the detainees. MK Aghbaria accused the police of using the right-wingers' "assault" to demonstrate its force to the residents of Umm al-Fahm. "The danger is not in the fascist marginal right, but in the one ruling the state and preparing ground for legislation against the Arab public in Israel," the MK said.

The right-wing demonstrators stated their purpose was to demand banning the Islamic Movement altogether. "Only in Israel can there be a group that says a third intifada should take place, that organizes a flotilla to Gaza and tries hurting IDF soldiers, while showing incompetence," said Ben-Gvir. He observed that Meir Kahane was seen as delusional but "more and more people understand these ideas."

Ben Ari called the Islamic Movement a "terrorist organization," and said that before setting out to the march he told his children he was working to make sure they were growing up "in a Jewish country without Ra'ad Salah."

More than 1,000 police officers took part in securing the march and keeping the crowds well apart, at the cost of some NIS 4 million to the taxpayer. At the end of the rally, the police forces began retreating to outside the city, but some young people continued throwing stones.

Major General Shimon Koren, commander of the Northern District, took personal command of the situation. "The police forces were attacked with stones in an attempt to prevent the march from taking place," he said. "After the stone-throwers began posing real risk to the policemen, I ordered the use of riot control methods, all within the boundaries of the law."

He said the police did not oppose to the actual staging of rally in any way, and said the appeal to the Supreme Court was made by the rightists, who sought to move the rally by 50 meters, and "the police opposed that request."