Dozens were wounded Friday night following a brawl between Druze and Muslims at a village in northern Israel.
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Medical teams rushed nine people with serious to moderate wounds, probably incurred from a hand grenade explosion, to the Western Galilee Hospital, Nahariya. At least 28 others, suffering from light to moderate injuries, were rushed to the same hospital. Extra police units and a helicopter were scrambled to the scene in Abu Snan. As of last night, 20 people remained hospitalized.
Dr. Zvi Sheleg, assistant director of the Nahariya hospital, said yesterday the hospital assumed a mass-injury event footing immediately after it received word about the large number of injured people, and that during Friday night one patient was transferred to Rambam Medical Center, Haifa. According to Dr. Sheleg, the transfer was made to reduce friction, as the injured man was serving in the police.
Tension between Druze and Muslims has been mounting in recent weeks, especially following the deaths of Arab Israeli youth Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, who was shot by police in Kafr Kana last weekend, and Border Police officer Jadan Assad, from the Druze town of Beit Jann, who was killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem. Many Druze serve in the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police.
The tension peaked over the course of last week, when Muslim students came to school wearing kaffiyehs to protest the Kafr Kana shooting. Administrators decided to let the students out early on Tuesday due to the unrest. The local council also held an emergency meeting to calm the atmosphere.
A stormy local council meeting was held last night with the participation of Arab Knesset members, village leaders, heads of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and other officials, after which it was decided to establish a joint committee to examine the incident and ways to defuse tensions in Abu Snan.
According to some witnesses, the brawl began following a dispute between a young Druze and a young Muslim over embarrassing posts about girls in Abu Snan on social media. The dispute led to a stabbing, and subsequently to the fighting.
The brawl broke out at around 11 P.M. on Friday. Nihad Mishlav, who heads the Abu Snan council, said the violence escalated when a youth was stabbed at a café near the municipal building. Mishlav said the violence was not linked to events at the school. While school regulations prohibit wearing a kaffiyeh to school, if they had asked permission from the police for a demonstration, the village leaders would not have had a problem with it, Mishlav said.
Under police orders, classes were cancelled in all of Abu Snan’s schools on Saturday. According to Nabia Asheikh, the municipality’s education director, schools will remain closed in the coming days, and the local council will meet Sunday to decide whether to continue the closure.
Saher Shami, 42, sustained shrapnel injuries. “The kids called that there was a brawl. On the way I called the police, but when I got there, they weren’t there,” he said. Shami’s wife, who was by his bedside, said, “The police didn’t help and didn’t come into the neighborhood to protect us. They stopped the ambulances from evacuating the injured,” adding that the injured had to be taken via a back road to meet the ambulances on the main road, and that she believed the police assisted the Druze. Other Muslims made the same claim.
The Coastal District police rejected the accusations, saying the police risked danger to themselves to separate the clashing groups and prevent further escalation. Commander Hagai Dotan, who has launched an investigation into the incident, met with senior Druze and Muslim officials early Saturday morning in an attempt to ease tensions.
The Druze community considers Abu Snan a part of the forum of local Druze councils, even though it shares the town with Muslim and Christian residents. The council’s heads have been Druze for decades, while Muslims and Christians served as deputies. Hostilities between the Muslim and Druze residents flared up last year ahead of local elections. Nevertheless, a Druze councillor was elected – Mishlav, who has been making efforts to alleviate the discord.