Thousands Attend Funeral of Israeli Arab Killed in Clashes With Police

Hundreds of youths surround the coffin while shouting 'Allah is great' and praising Taha as a martyr

The funeral of Mohammed Taha in Kafr Qasem on June 6, 2017.
David Bachar

Thousands participated on Tuesday in the Kafr Qasem funeral of Mohammed Taha, who was shot to death by a security guard at the entry of the city’s police station during disturbances a night earlier.

Taha, 28, was shot in his upper body and evacuated to hospital, where he died of his wounds. The funeral procession began in the evening hours after pathologists at the Abu Kabir national forensic institute conducted an autopsy on his body.

His father, Mahmoud, said that before the shooting Mohammed had been in the protest tent set up opposite the city’s police station to demand greater police protection after two residents were murdered on Friday. When people learned of the arrest of a resident reputed to head the volunteer civil guard committee that has operated in the city for a number of years, tensions rose and confrontations began next to the police station.

Women attend the funeral of Mohammed Taha in Kafr Qasem on June 6, 2017.
David Bachar

Residents threw stones and set fire to police vans. A number of policemen were lightly wounded, and a security guard who was guarding the station shot and wounded Taha. He said that he had fired because he felt his life was in danger. The guard was questioned by police on Tuesday and then released home. Witnesses said that he purposefully shot at Taha's head without prior warning shots. The guard's attorney denied the allegations.

Hundreds of youths surrounded the coffin while shouting “Allah is great” and praising Taha as a martyr. After his body was brought to his home, the crowds brought it to the cemetery, which also contains the graves of the victims of the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre by Israeli troops. Dozens of youths marched at the front of the procession holding Palestinian flags.

Taha was married for two years and worked in a warehouse for building materials. Last year, he got a truck driving license and planned to work as a trucker. Relatives said his family is well known in the city, and that his father taught in the schools for 28 years. He was known as a modest young man who supported his family and very much wanted to raise a family.

Kafr Qasem residents stressed that Taha's death in hospital instead of in the street, and the long delay in announcing his death, prevented a mass confrontation with police. “If the residents had known that he was killed at this place, it could have led to a real massacre, and we would be facing horrible bloodshed,” said local resident and Meretz MK Esawi Freige.

The violence calmed down toward Tuesday morning, and many business owners decided not to open their businesses as a sign of mourning and protest. Many residents gathered in the mourners’ tent put up next to Taha’s house. As the hours passed, more and more people gathered at the entrance of the house, waiting for the funeral.

Tawfik Sarsur, a local business owner, spoke of a grim atmosphere in the city.

“People’s anger is understandable. The city is rampant with crime, and the police look for the head of the civil guard committee to arrest him,” he said. “They suddenly discovered that they needed to investigate him. They couldn’t just call him in quietly.”

Sarsur said there is a consensus in Kafr Qasem about the civil guard committee because the residents understand that the police are not doing their job. He said the police had totally failed to give residents a sense of personal security for some time.

“I personally lost one of my uncles in 2011 after he was shot by an unknown assailant in the city, and the crime has not been solved yet, and we don’t know when it will be solved,” he said. “What kind of faith does this give a family, and residents in general?”

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee has declared a general strike in the Arab community on Wednesday, save for special education classes and matriculation exams. There will be protests in the evening opposite local police stations in Arab communities and at major junctions. Friday's mosque sermons will be dedicated to the struggle against violence. A national demonstration protesting violence and police conduct is planned for Kafr Qasem this Saturday.

Officials from the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee say there will be further steps taken in the near future to protest the situation, including a demonstration in front of the national police headquarters and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.