Police arrested five demonstrators at a protest against the violence plaguing Israel's Arab community and the state's response to it in the city of Umm al-Fahm Friday.
Three of those arrested have been released; police are seeking to extend the detention of the other two protesters. The demonstration, which drew 250 people, was held for the third consecutive week under the banner “Choosing Life.”
Police claimed that demonstrators blocked roads into the city, threw stones and shot firecrackers at officers. Demonstrators claimed that police used excessive violence and that some of the arrests were unwarranted.
Social activist Yanal Jbareen from the Campaign against Crime and Violence in Arab Society told Haaretz that demonstrators prayed on the road before walking to the city’s police station. He said that at this point, the police used a “skunk,” a crowd-control vehicle which sprays foul-smelling water.
“They used it in order to disperse the demonstration” said Jbareen. “There was no violence on the part of demonstrators, it was a non-violent protest. Then they started throwing stun grenades and everyone left. I was there with a few Jewish protesters, and a car with undercover police in civilian clothes approached us. They threw a stun grenade and then two more. They were arresting people everywhere.”
According to Jbareen, “the police blocked the main road and prevented residents from exiting the city. They used all the force at their disposal. We’ve experienced police violence over the last three weeks. We were only 250 demonstrators in all, a minority. In the afternoon there were a thousand or so of us taking part in a protest march, and they didn't use means like this.”
The Umm al-Fahm municipality said that “What happened last night was police aggression and brutality against young people who were protesting non-violently against increasing crime rates in this city and in Arab society in general." The statement continued, "The police used violence and even damaged public property. It is clear that the police take action only when they see the public protesting against its inaction and demanding that it do what is required in the campaign against violence and bring criminals to justice.”
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Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen, a resident of the city, tweeted that “five people were violently arrested tonight in a demonstration in Umm al-Fahm against violence and crime. Skunks and stun grenades were used against demonstrators, with undercover agents snatching protesters. Police beat detainees in their van (one is hospitalized). Who decided to stop this protest against crime using fire and steel, and why? The police, bigotedly and violently, are choosing to fight demonstrators rather than crime organizations.”
The police said on Saturday evening that they had no information on a demonstrator who was hospitalized, adding that “in this complex period, the police allow everyone to exercise their freedom to demonstrate within the bounds of the law. In this case, demonstrators started to disrupt public order at the scene by moving onto the road and blocking the highway, with some of them throwing stones and launching firecrackers towards the police.
"When this started, they were dispersed with the use of various tools that were at our disposal, with five suspects arrested. We’ll continue to allow demonstrations that do not violate the law, but we will not allow a disruption of public order or the use of violence, and we will act against any attempt to illegally hurt police officers or civilians," the police said.