Ahmad Tibi, a senior member of the largely Arab Joint List party, has filed a complaint against an Israeli soldier who prevented him and party colleagues from entering a street in Hebron to protest renovations at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Al-Sahla Street in the West Bank town is near the tomb and the Jewish neighborhood of Avraham Avinu. Renovations are being done to make the tomb accessible to people with disabilities, and army sources say Tibi was not allowed to enter the neighborhood because others in his group were not authorized to be there.
The work at the tomb stirred heavy criticism in the largely Palestinian town, including from officials from the municipality and the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf.
Tibi claims the soldier assaulted him, something he says is clearly visible in footage posted on social media. The right-wing legal aid group Honenu, meanwhile, says the soldier’s father has filed a complaint against Tibi alleging that the legislator attacked his son.
The incident occurred on the visit Saturday by Tibi and Knesset members Ayman Odeh, Osama Saadi and Sami Abu Shehadeh.
According to Tibi, the soldier insisted that he, as a soldier, did not take orders from the police and Border Police at the scene; he also allegedly struck Tibi and boasted about preventing the four legislators from entering the site.
“This involved violent, aggressive and bullying behavior … a physical attack and a blatant violation of a Knesset member’s [parliamentary] immunity,” Tibi alleges in the complaint filed Tuesday.
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“I arrived there accompanied by the police and Border Police, and it was clear to everyone that we were MKs. We got to Al-Sahla Street and all of a sudden a soldier stood facing us, trying to prevent us from entering.”
The soldier knew the visit was planned, Tibi added, “but decided in advance not to let us enter.”
Tibi says that though the legislators presented written permission to enter, the soldier shouted: “Who are you anyway? The fact that you’re MKs doesn’t interest me.”
The soldier then allegedly punched Tibi in the stomach while pushing him. “Even the police and officers at the scene looked embarrassed,” Tibi says, adding that he also filed a complaint with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, “since it appeared that the soldier was getting the backing of the system.”
The Israel Defense Forces' Spokesperson's Unit says the soldier acted in accordance with procedures.
Honenu, the legal aid group, says Chaim Blaycher, a lawyer assisting the soldier’s family, filed a complaint with the police alleging that Tibi “tried to interfere with my client’s performance of his task by entering by force an area under supervision and of high security sensitivity. The suspect [Tibi] seriously and blatantly attacked the soldier and also humiliated and insulted him in public. The suspect is indeed a Knesset member, but his action is a clear criminal offense.”