28 Injured, 13 Arrested as Rightists March in Umm al-Fahm

The radical right-wing march through the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm yesterday lasted only 30 minutes, but the marchers, the Arab inhabitants of the town, and the police all seemed to have derived satisfaction with the outcome. The marchers lifted their Israeli flags high in a city where Arab nationalist sentiment runs high; the Arabs, who saw the marchers kept to an outlying, lightly-populated side street, said they had "held fascism in check," and the police, 3,00 of whom secured the scene, carried out the High Court of Justice order to allow the march with a minimum of injuries.

The marchers, who had agreed to hand over weapons before the event, were brought to the site in two armored buses, which accompanied them all along the route.

When the dust had settled, 13 protesters from Umm al-Fahm were under arrest. Police Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren, commander of the northern district, said they had "endangered life and disturbed the peace."

Among the 28 people injured during the clashes were 15 police officers hit by stones, including deputy police commissioner Maj. Gen. Shahar Ayalon.

"It could have been worse. Thanks to our actions, it came out alright," police said.

The demonstrators marched for about one kilometer along Al Akwas Street, on the southern limits of this central Arab city of 50,000 near Highway 65. At the other end of the street, thousands of Arabs from the city and the region waited for them, along with Jewish supporters from the Hadash and Meretz parties and Peace Now, who were also protesting the march.

When the 30-minute alloted time was up, police began dispersing the marchers to prevent an encounter between the two groups, and clashes ensued that lasted about three hours. Several masked young Arab men hurled stones at the police, who fired tear gas and water cannons at them, while retreating slowly. About 10 demonstrators carried Palestinian flags.

One young man, holding an ax, walked around freely in the street. "They're filming - how can you go around like that?" a local man shouted at him, which the ax-wielding man acknowledged with a shrug.

March leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, parliamentary aide to National Union MK Michael Ben Ari, called the march "800 meters of history." Fellow marcher Baruch Marzel, of the Jewish National Front faction of the National Union party, repeated in Hebrew and English: "Anybody who doesn't want us to be here will be the one not to be here."

The Umm al-Fahm municipality released a unanimous statment that the city's inhabitants and the entire Arab public had "with the support of the Jewish forces of peace and democracy, stood together to stop this provocation and managed to curb racism and fascism."

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said: "The freedom to demonstrate does not apply to this event, the goal of which was provocation."

Saher Abu-Shahab, who stood to protest the march at the entrance to the city, said he had taken the day off from work to protect his home and family. "We want to live in peace and coexistence and say we are citizens of Israel, and they are trying to present the opposite picture," he said.

A resident of the Israeli Arab city of Taibeh, who carried a Palestinian flag, said: "From my point of view this is Palestine and will stay Palestine. The Right can protest all it wants, but it won't change that fact."

The head of the nearby Menashe local council, Ilan Sadeh, said the march had "only strengthened us in continuing our coexistence activities." He condemned the stone-throwers, but said: "it just shows that the High Court should not have allowed the march, which represents not democracy, but racism."