Officer Involved in Suppression of October 2000 Riots Mustn't Be Police Chief, Arab Leaders Say

Arab leaders call on AG to disqualify appointment of Tel Aviv District police chief Bentzi Sau as acting police commissioner.

Arab riots of October 2000, Nazareth.
Arab riots of October 2000, Nazareth.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan appointed Thursday Tel Aviv District police chief Bentzi Sau as acting police commissioner. But members of the Arab community promptly challenged the appointment, urging the attorney general to disqualify it.

Sau will temporarily replace Commissioner Yohanan Danino, who is due to retire at the end of the month. He is also seen as a leading candidate to get the top police post permanently, although other candidates are in the running.

But the Arab community has never forgiven Sau for his role in suppressing violent Arab riots in October 2000. Thirteen Israeli Arabs were killed by the police during those riots.

The cabinet will be asked to approve Sau’s interim appointment on Sunday, the Public Security Ministry said. Sau will fill the commissioner’s place for two months starting on July 1, or until a new commissioner is appointed. His deputy, Yoram Ohayon, will replace him as Tel Aviv District commander during this time.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is currently scrutinizing the candidates for police commissioner. Erdan has not yet expressed a preference for any of them, and is reportedly waiting for Weinstein’s opinion on how likely each of them is to be approved by the Turkel Committee, which vets senior civil service appointments.

But MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) and Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel on Thursday urged Weinstein to disqualify Sau from serving as police commissioner due to his involvement in the October 2000 riots. At the time, Sau was the Border Police’s commander in the northern district, where the riots took place.

“According to the Or Commission, Sau bears responsibility for the murder of three civilians in the Wadi Ara region, where he served as Border Police commander,” Adalah wrote, referring to the state commission of inquiry that investigated the October 2000 clashes.

Jabareen’s letter to Weinstein noted that in 2006, the Supreme Court disqualified Sau from becoming the public security minister’s chief of operations due to his part in the bloody events.

“It is unthinkable to appoint a policeman who was so harshly reprimanded by a state commission of inquiry to the highest police position,” Jabareen wrote. “The Or Commission may have restricted Sau’s promotion for [only] four years, but its statements about his conduct, actions and responsibility disqualify him from serving as head of the law enforcement pyramid today as well.”

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