Clashes in Haifa Over Gaza Operation, 30 Arrested

Activists claim police acted brutally and assaulted Knesset members and other protesters; police say demonstrators attacked officers.

Rani Shllush

Clashes erupted in Haifa on Friday between demonstrators demanding an end to the operation in Gaza and police. Several protesters and officers sustained light injuries, and 30 people were arrested. Knesset members from the Arab party Balad claim they were attacked by the police during the demonstration. The head of the Haifa police was assaulted with a club.

Some 400 people marched to Peace and Tolerance Square on Ben-Gurion Boulevard in Haifa's German Colony. The protesters attempted to block the street at which point clashes with the police broke out. MK Basel Ghattas and MK Jamal Zahalka said that police officers attacked them.

"I was assaulted twice, hit in my hips and legs. The police didn't respect our right to protest and acted brutally. They came to show that they had power, but our fight against the slaughter in Gaza will continue," Zahalka said, adding that he intends to file a complaint with the police's internal affairs department.

MK Haneen Zoabi was handcuffed by a police officer and was released half an hour later by order of the district commander. Haifa police chief Avi Edri, who was attacked by a protester with a club, said that the police would contact the attorney general since, according to him, Zoabi assaulted an officer.

One protester, Wadiya Awawda, said the police broke up a legitimate rally against the operation in Gaza. "We wanted to protest but the police locked us up in a small compound. Children were suffocated and we wanted to leave at which point cavalry was sent in at attacked us. We wanted to protect someone and then serious violence began. The police have to understand that we have the right to protest," Awawda said. According to him MK Zahalka was badly beaten.

According to Commander Edri, the police allowed the rally to take place even though it did not receive a permit. 

"It was an unauthorized protest; still we acted in a balanced manner. I was in contact with the protesters. A number of times this worked out and a number of times it didn't," Edri said. "People from outside of Haifa came in with the intention of rioting and clashing with the police. They were arrested only once they tried to block the road and assault police officers. What happened was very serious. We will prosecute the offenders to the full extent of the law, and tomorrow we will ask the court to extend their remand."

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said that "As we expected, members of marginal groups in the likeness of MK Zahalka and MK Zoabi, accompanied by their followers, came to disrupt the wonderful coexistence in Haifa. I state here that all of us in Haifa, Arabs and Jews alike, will not support any radical group in the city." Yahav added that "Haifa refuses to be a hotspot for protests and provocations. Anyone interested in protesting against the global situation of the Middle East should go elsewhere and to the halls of government, not in our city."

On Saturday another demonstration is scheduled to take place in Haifa, with a proper permit, against the operation in Gaza. Police said they expect the rally to encounter a counter-protest by right-wing activists, and that they are prepared to prevent clashes.

Clashes broke out in Jerusalem at the end of the Friday prayer on Temple Mount. Seven Palestinians were arrested. According to the police, a few dozen young Palestinians, wearing masks, threw stones at police officers at Mughrabi Gate. A police force stormed Temple Mount and repelled protesters using non-lethal weapons.