Former police commissioner Yehuda Wilk, who headed the police force during the Arab riots of October 2000, yesterday told the Or Commission investigating the riots that he never ordered his men to keep the Wadi Ara road open at all costs, and that he only learned that snipers were used to do so two weeks after the rioting.
Thirteen demonstrators were killed during the rioting, apparently by police.
Wilk's testimony yesterday, his second appearance before the judicial commission of inquiry in as many days, directly contradicts the testimony of former Northern District Police Commander Alik Ron, who claimed to the panel that he was under orders to keep the Wadi Ara road clear no matter what. But Wilk supported his testimony with radio interviews he gave on October 2, in which he said that there was no police directive to keep the road open.
In contrast, Wilk's claim that he only heard about the use of snipers two weeks after the rioting, on October 19, raised the ire of the panel chairman, Justice Theodor Or. "From my perspective, it seems inconceivable - and I use the term `seems' to be cautious - that you were in touch with Alik about the events of October 2, and you were in a helicopter on the way to report to the government ... and the relationship between the two of you is not that of strangers ... I say to you, Mr. Wilk, that it is simply inconceivable [that you did not know about the snipers.]"
That infuriated Wilk. "I am under oath," he began, only to be interrupted by Or, who corrected him by saying "under warning." Wilk went on: "Never, ever in my thirty years of service has anyone been able to question or doubt the integrity of things I said."
That kind of exchange characterized much of Wilk's testimony yesterday, as he faced questions from panel members relating to the answers he had given the day before to questions posed by Wilk's own lawyers. Professor Shlomo Shamir complained that Wilk's answers "keep throwing the ball into other courts." Wilk insisted that he was not responsible for anticipating the rioting, saying that was the Shin Bet's job.
Wilk's testimony is the last by the senior police officers who were warned by the panel that they may face charges of some kind as a result of the hearings, and it ends the deliberations on the police's operational failures during the riot. These failures included a grave lack of trained manpower and equipment for crowd control and the deadly use of force, including both live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets.
The next round of hearings will be devoted to testimony by the political echelon: former prime minster Ehud Barak and former public security minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.