A security guard at the entrance of the Kafr Qasem police station shot and killed a local resident during clashes that erupted late Monday night between police and locals following the arrest of a reputed crime fighter in the violence-plagued town.
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Mohammed Taha, 28, was shot in the face, an eyewitness told Haaretz. He was evacuated to hospital, where he died of his wounds. “The guard left his position and shot directly at the youth,” Adal Badir, a resident of Kafr Qasem said. Taha’s father, Mahmoud Taha, said the guard “shot directly at his head and upper body.”
Police said the guard was facing hundreds of rioters, many of whom were throwing stones and torching police vehicles, and that he felt his life in danger when he opened fire.
Thousands attended Taha’s funeral on Tuesday, and Arab community leaders have called for a general strike on Wednesday to protest the incident.
Many residents threw stones at police and torched police cruisers in the course of the confrontation, and several police officers were slightly injured. Police said Taha was shot and critically wounded by a civilian security guard who was standing at the entrance to the local police station. Police have opened an investigation into the killing.
The incident began shortly before midnight Monday when police detained a Kafr Qasem resident for initial investigation and, after finding that he was wanted for questioning, placed him under arrest. Residents said the man arrested was a leader of one of the committees, and that this prompted the disturbances.
A police spokesman said, “The man resisted arrest, attacked the police and was joined by about 50 other people who managed to free him for a moment from the police. The police managed to subdue the suspect as they came under volleys of stones thrown at them and at the police cruiser.”
Earlier on Monday, Kafr Qasem residents kept their children home from school in protest over what they said were insufficient police efforts to curb violence in the town. On Friday, two local men were murdered at a gas station at the edge of Kafr Qasem. Police have not arrested suspects in the case.
Residents have organized municipal security committees staffed by young volunteers to maintain order in Kafr Qasem and to prevent criminals from coming into town. The committees are functioning in conjunction with city hall but the Israel Police object to their activities and have occasionally ended up in confrontations with them. In Israel, the police force is a national agency and does not function under the auspices of municipal authorities.
According to the Israel Police, which deployed a large police force in the town, hundreds of rioters congregated around the local police station following the arrest, throwing stones and setting three police cruisers on fire. “Initial findings indicate that the civilian security guard at the police location who felt that his life was in danger opened fire at the rioters,” the police said.
Taha was taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva in critical condition before succumbing to his wounds.
The dead man’s uncle, Abdel Hafiz Taha, said his nephew was also active in the security committees and had visited a protest tent that was set up near the police station. The uncle claimed that the security guard outside the police station shot his nephew at close range in his upper torso. “There was no justification for weapon fire like that,” he said.
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Knesset members from the Joint List faction, nearly all of whose leaders and supporters are Arabs, visited Kafr Qasem. Alsheich held an emergency meeting with the Knesset members and with the town’s mayor, Adel Amar, and with representatives of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which issued a statement accusing the country’s leadership of responsibility for failing to deal with organized crime in the Israeli Arab community.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Reshet Bet radio that “no complaint against the police justifies violence against policemen and the burning of cruisers.”
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said, “[The police] are not only forsaking our security [and] the streets of our communities and not solving murders. They themselves are attacking and injuring civilians. The police are continuing to relate to the Arab population as enemies that [others] should be protected from – and not as citizens who should be protected. The citizens are no longer prepared to accept this distorted reality.” At the very least, the police must now allow residents to protest, he said.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi arrived at Kafr Qasem later in the night and said residents are angry over a recent spate of unsolved local murders, and called for the young man’s death to be thoroughly investigated.
Kafr Qasem was the scene of an infamous incident in the state's early years, considered a watershed moment between Israeli Jews and Arabs. On October 29, 1956, during the first day of the Sinai campaign, three Israeli Border Police officers received orders to shoot anyone who broke the curfew imposed on the village. Troops killed 47 of the village’s residents, including women and children, as they were making their way home from work, unaware of the newly imposed curfew. Israel’s then-President Shimon Peres apologized in 2007 and President Reuven Rivlin also visited the town for a memorial event in 2014.