Police on Wednesday raided the Bedouin community of Bir Hadj in the Negev and arrested 17 people, after finding hundreds of cannabis plants as well as military equipment that was allegedly stolen.
The raid was conducted after two residents of the village were arrested over a confrontation last week with soldiers in a firing zone of the Tze’elim army training base; the two were suspected of having stolen military equipment from the base.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tweeted after the Tze’elim incident that he would not remain indifferent “to wildness on the roads in the south and the phenomenon of theft from IDF bases. There’s more to come.” On Wednesday Ohana praised the police action in Bir Hajd, writing, “This is definitely not a one-off. It will continue like this.”
Following the raid, the chairman of the Bir Hadj village committee, Salim Danfiri, said, “Police forces and the Green Patrol surrounded the community and began to punish the residents by intimidating the children, women and entire families, making arrests, issuing traffic tickets, confiscating flocks, […] confiscating property and more. One can define this action with two words, as did a senior police officer, ‘Hit [them] all.’ We are amazed at the rush to fulfill the will of the far right, while trampling on human rights and imposing collective punishment on all the residents of Bir Hadj.”
In a video from the incident last week, soldiers are seen chasing after a car carrying the suspected thieves. During the chase, numerous residents of Bir Hadj arrived, surrounded the military vehicle, and threw stones at the soldiers. One of the soldiers fired in the air in response. Another video shows an officer point a weapon at one of the drivers.
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During the ensuing days police were unable to locate the suspects, but earlier this week four residents of Bir Hadj came to the police and gave testimony on the incident. Two of them were arrested and the other two were released. Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday extended the detention of one of the suspects, Hassan Gohara, for three days and the other was released to house arrest.
Gohara admitted under questioning that he had driven the vehicle from which other suspects emerged to steal equipment. Judge Sara Haviv noted that there was testimony by people who saw men get out of the car, load it up with stolen equipment and flee. Gohara’s lawyer argued that he had gone to the area to find a camel that had gone missing.