The mayor of an Israeli Arab city confronted challenged a handful of masked men who were protesting Israeli actions at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, stopping them from blocking roads and vandalizing property.
The young men were standing at the entrance of Umm al-Fahm while chanting slogans denouncing Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territories, while calling out "Israel is a terrorist state," when Mayor Dr. Samir Mahameed arrived at the scene to disperse them.
Speaking with Haaretz after the incident, Mahameed said that he sought to calm the situation, rather than be dragged into a confrontation. "I'm in favor of legitimate and nonviolent protest," the mayor said. "There is no place for a protest that violates public order. That serves no one, and certainly not the messages we wanted to convey," he added.
Mahameed stressed that it is important to protest what is happening at Al-Aqsa,“but in a legitimate way,” he said.
Hundreds have been injured by tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets in clashes at the holy site amid rioting by young Palestinians and a heavy police crackdown. The rare coincidence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter this year has also been a point of friction, with some Jews seeking to enter the compound, the holiest site in Judaism, for ritual sacrifice and prayer, in violation of the status quo agreements.
The protest in Umm al-Fahm is led by the youth movement Al-Hirak Al-Shababi, which has no political affiliation but is known for its extremist positions. Last year, group members waged a campaign against the Israel Police, demanding that the force “fight crime, not residents.”
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Following the shooting attack in Hadera last month, the municipality issued a statement of condolence to the families of the perpetrators, residents of Umm al-Fahm, stating, among other things, that the mayor and city employees “express regret over their deaths.”
The post on the city’s Facebook page was removed about an hour after it went up, and the city’s PR department said the message was not coordinated with the mayor. Mahameed announced his resignation over the incident, but reversed his decision a few hours later.