Druze Elders Save Police From Crowd

Leaders intervene after police try to enter house in Majdal Shams using clubs and tear gas.

An international crime investigation unit of the Israel police carrying out an operation in the Druze village of Majdal Shams was trapped by a large crowd for over two hours yesterday, before Druze elders intervened to guarantee their safe release.

According to eyewitnesses, the 20-strong police force tried to enter a house in the village at around 6 P.M. using clubs and tear gas. Both family members and police officers were injured in the incident, and although the police called for reinforcements, the house was quickly surrounded by an angry crowd.

Druze protest
Tomer Neuberg

The family that resides in the house told Haaretz they did not know the reason behind the raid.

The crowd that circled the house reportedly chanted anti-Israel slogans, pelted the structure with stones and overturned a police car, while the reinforcement unit preferred not to engage, eyewitnesses said. Police sources claimed that the officers only resorted to the use of pepper spray and tear gas when they felt threatened.

Two people were taken to Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed - a man in his 40s injured by broken glass, and a 28-year-old woman described as suffering from shock. Residents said a number of people, including children, also suffered from smoke inhalation and were treated locally. Police did not report any casualties among its forces, but did say damage was caused to police cars.

Exceptionally large numbers of police were involved in the operation, headed by North District commander Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren. Negotiations were held with village elders and senior Druze religious figures, who persuaded the crowd at length to disperse.

"This was very serious violence against the team. We were prepared to act but eventually, with the aid of local leadership, the incident concluded without any casualties," said Koren.

Officers in the police's Northern District told Haaretz yesterday that it was unclear whether the operation was coordinated with all officials involved, and whether the police had been sufficiently prepared to prevent the scenario that unfolded.

A senior officer, however, told Haaretz that the incident could have ended considerably worse if a forced rescue had been attempted. Another officer surmised that the beginning of the World Cup final game thinned the crowd considerably as the evening progressed.