Israeli Arab City Bounced Back From Deadly Flareup, but Residents Fear Further Violence

After days of violent attacks and clashes, the Umm al-Fahm residents are still on edge

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Border police in Umm al-Fahm, on Saturday.
Border police in Umm al-Fahm, on Saturday.Credit: Fadi Amun
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The mood in Umm al-Fahm on Friday barely hinted at the events in the northern Israeli Arab city less than 24 hours earlier. There was little evidence of the homes that were set ablaze, the violent clashes and two separate shootings Thursday and Friday.

To the casual observer, it was just another Friday – empty streets and little in the way of trade as people readied for Friday prayers in the mosques. But anyone looking carefully at the faces of the locals could perceive the tension they held. A cluster of young men dressed in black who stood at the city entrance didn’t answer when a stranger asked for directions to al-Baraghla. Eventually, one of them said “Go up from there,” pointing to the road leading to the neighborhood at the city’s eastern edge.

The drive, through a few alleyways, took just a few minutes. Two boys were playing near the spot where a man had been shot to death the day before. They, unlike their grandfather, did not appear concerned. “Get inside now,” he told them. “God save us, I don’t want to talk anymore about what happened here,” he said, before reprimanding their mother. “I told you not to let them go out now,” the grandfather grumbled from behind a fence.

His neighbors all seemed to share his apprehension, and most of the residents who spoke to me requested anonymity. It’s not the increased police presence they fear, but rather the forces within their city. “It’s not a battle between the establishment and the citizens; if it were an incident like the police shooting of Muhammad Kabha in May, people would be out on the streets,” said one man. “The situation now is very complex; it combines family feuds, criminal elements who don’t hesitate to use guns and also the police, against which people were demonstrating against here only a few months ago,” he explained.

Umm al-Fahm mayor Samir Mahamid, on Saturday.Credit: Fadi Amun

The man added: “I heard gunshots this morning. I’m not sure if there was a physical roadblock but there was clearly a police presence, and the vehicle of the two victims came and went a few times. Maybe the police saw something suspicious and asked them to stop and then opened fire. I don’t know whether or not the shooting was justified.”

There was a heightened police presence in al-Baraghla Friday, mainly Border Police in armored vehicles and tear gas dispensers. Newly deployed officers were given briefings. The police gave city officials images showing that the car that hit two Border Police officers ignored orders to stop and that a pistol was found inside it. Officers fired at the vehicle, killing one of the passengers – Fathi Jabarin, a city resident in his 20s – and wounding the other one.

After the incident, the city issued a statement calling on residents to help stop the mounting bloodshed in Umm al-Fahm. The latest incidents were extreme, even in a city that has seen more than its share of shootings and murders in the past year. On Thursday, Muhammad Hamza Burgel Agbaria, 33, died and a second man was wounded after someone shot at their car, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a truck. That incident spurred the arson attacks on several homes in the city, which in turn led to the Border Police shooting in which Jabarin was killed. The fear is that the cycle of violence will not only continue but escalate.

Despite the fears, Agbaria’s funeral Friday evening was relatively calm, and efforts were underway to ensure that Jabarin’s funeral, scheduled for Saturday, would also take place without violence. At a news conference that he convened Friday evening, attended by Knesset members and public officials, Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahamid stressed the need for reconciliation. “Anyone from either of the two feuding families who isn’t willing to reconciliate will be ostracized,” he said.

Morid Farid, a member of Umm al-Fahm’s popular committee, said, referring to a northern Israeli coastal town: “Just imagine if 10 people were to be murdered in Nahariya, how would the police and the government respond? I’m not saying the residents have no responsibility, but at the end of the day the establishment also has responsibility.”

Umm al-Fahm, Saturday.Credit: Fadi Amun

Former Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen, who did not hide his apprehensions concerning events in Umm al-Fahm, echoed Farid’s concerns. Jabareen said he previously warned of the dangers of illegal guns in Arab communities. He also believes that the lack of appropriate frameworks for young adults and the large proportion of murders that go unsolved are harmful to Arab society. “Many years of a policy of abandoning the Arab communities to their fate brought about the intolerable situation in the city today,” Jabareen said.

So far this year, 12 people have been murdered in Umm al-Fahm, all of them by gunfire. In September, a 6-year-old boy was shot and seriously wounded while riding in a car with his aunt and uncle, who were also injured. The incident sparked a wave of protests against the lack of a police presence in the city. That situation has changed, but members of Umm al-Fahm’s popular committee, which includes rank-amd-file residents as well as social and political activists, view the police as the main factor in the decline of personal security, for failing to address the private arsenals that some city residents have been amassing for years.

Friday’s shooting did not set off calls for anti-police protests. Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said on Twitter that he was in contact with Mahamid, the mayor. The question now is whether the police and the city’s residents can find a way to cooperate that can end the cycle of violence and restore personal security to Umm al-Fahm.

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