Arab Community Protests Appointment of Acting Israel Police Chief

Maj. Gen. Benzi Sao was commander of the Wadi Ara region in October 2000, where 13 Arabs died following clashes with the police; his appointment comes in preparation for the retirement of incumbent Yohanan Danino.

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

Leading figures in the Israeli-Arab community say they will not cooperate with the new acting police commissioner, because of his link to events in October 2000 that left 13 Arabs dead following violent clashes with the Israel Police.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, the heads of Arab municipalities and Joint Arab List chairman Ayman Odeh called the planned appointment of Maj. Gen. Benzi Sao an insult to the Arab community. Sao was commander of the Wadi Ara region in October 2000.

Sao’s appointment as acting police commissioner was brought to the cabinet on Sunday, in preparation for Wednesday's retirement of police chief Yohanan Danino.

In a letter written on behalf of the council heads and sent to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the mayors wrote, “The Arab community and all its representatives cannot accept this appointment, and views it as [an act] of great disrespect and scorn for the lives of Arab citizens. It grants official legitimacy, on the part of the authorities, to someone who acted in an illegal manner, and even in contradiction to the police regulations required of him at the time in October 2000.”

The letter was signed by the mayor of Sakhnin and organization head Mazen Ghanaim, who is also deputy chairman of the Higher Monitoring Committee.

Odeh said his party may petition the High Court of Justice against Sao’s appointment, citing the official government report into the October 2000 deaths. “The Or Commission determined in an unequivocal fashion that [Sao] was a partner in the crime, and recommended he not be promoted within the police for four years,” said Odeh. Sao was found innocent “not because of a lack of guilt, but because of a lack of evidence,” alleged Odeh.

However, social activists in the Arab community noted that in recent years, when Sao served as commander of the Central District, he received full cooperation from the heads of Arab municipalities and there had never been any decision to boycott him.

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