Thousands Protest Police Brutality in Israeli Arab Community Despite Police Warning

Over ten thousand join protest in Umm al-Fahm, including Israeli MKs; Ra'am Leader Mansour Abbas, who hasn't ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, attacked by protesters

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Thousands congregating in Umm-al Fahm today to protest police brutality
Thousands congregating in Umm-al Fahm today to protest police brutality Credit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Over ten thousand residents of the northern Arab-majority town of Umm al-Fahm took to the streets to protest police brutality as well as gun violence in the Arab community on Friday.

According to an Israel Police statement, some protesters set off fireworks and hurled stones at police officers.

Umm-al Fahm's Mayor Samir Mahamid said that the protesters gathered "in peace," extending his thanks to everyone who attended the protest.

"We're here to protest police violence and also to call on the police to act against criminal gangs in our communities. We don't have a violent message, we just want to live safely in our towns," Mahamid said.

Residents of nearby towns also joined the protests, as well as a number of Jewish Israelis and representatives from the Ra'am and Meretz political parties.

Among the participants was Jaber Hijazi from Tamra, whose brother Ahmad was killed last month in a gunfire exchange between police officers and suspects. "I am participating in the demonstration out of sympathy with the residents of the city and Arab society in general," he said.

Eleven year old Myar Agbaria, whose father Muhammad was murdered last year, said at a demonstration: "I can no longer say the word father because my father was murdered in cold blood. I, and many my age want to live in security. I support the struggle in order to send a message to the police that they do what is required of it."

The leader of the Ra'am party Mansour Abbas was also attacked by protesters. Locals pushed him forcefully, and called on him to leave the scene.

Abbas withdrew his Ra'am party from the Joint List coalition last month, and has come under criticism over his refusal to rule out joining a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources in Ra'am claimed that the attackers were members of rival Arab parties, but activists in Balad and Hadash denied this. The Umm al-Fahm municipality released a statement condemning the attack, but called the overall protest successful in terms of turnout and its messaging.

Joint List Knesset member Yousef Jabareen, who was wounded by a stun grenade fired by police during last week's protest, told Haaretz: "The fact that police did not intervene this time indicates they are grasping the magnitude of the crisis."

Moshe, an ultra-Orthodox man from Bnei Brak told Haaretz he joined the Umm-al Fahm protest to stand in solidarity with locals against police brutaility.

"I came to show solidarity with the Umm-al Fam community, as an ultra-Orthodox man I can understand the frustration and anger of the locals [toward police], even if I don't look like I belong here," he said.

Member of Knesset for Meretz Yair Golan tweeted that "the demonstration in Umm al-Fahm is conducted in exemplary order, with dignity and without any violence. At these moments the young people are cleaning the junction from dirt. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply not telling the truth."

Protesters waved both Palestinians and black flags. Some callied for the expulsion of police forces from their communities, following reports of police brutality at last week's protests against violence.

Israel Police said earlier they closed off roads to traffic in Israel's north resulting from the protests, including route 65 that leads into Umm-al Fahm.

On Thursday, police sent a letter to the mayor of Umm al-Fahm, saying the Arab city will be held accountable for any disorder during a demonstration slated for Friday to protest the authorities’ response to gun violence in Arab society.

This comes after several protesters were wounded, with one of them sustaining serious injuries in last week's rally as police clashed with demonstrators. Eight police officers were also injured. A stun grenade fired by the police wounded Jabareen, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, and Mahamid.

Mahamid replied that he rejects “the attempt to place responsibilities on the city that are not under its purview and which it is not capable of undertaking.”

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