Rights Groups Accuse Police of Brutality During Nakba Protest

Video footage, photos show police officers beating journalists, protesters during demonstration 10 days ago.

Activists and Arab rights organizations are accusing the Israel Police of brutality against protesters during a procession marking Nakba day 10 days ago in a pilgrimage to the abandoned village of Saphoria in Tzipori.

Nakba day, meaning "day of the catastrophe" is an annual day of commemoration for the Palestinian people of the anniversary of the creation of Israel in 1948 (on the same day Israelis celebrate independence), which resulted in their displacement from their land.

At a press conference held Monday, the activists presented video footage and photographs showing police officers beating journalists and even smashing the head of one of the protesters who was already handcuffed and sitting on the ground.

The police officers and the protesters clashed toward the end of the procession. Officers fired tear gas grenades into the crowd, which, in turn, hurled stones at the officers and passing vehicles.

According to the Arab organizations, the conflict began when the police officers tried to steer the protesters, who were carrying Palestinian flags, away from the shoulder of the road. Eye witnesses told Haaretz that this occurred after several verbal requests to stay away from traffic went unheeded.

Thirteen Israeli Arab citizens were arrested in connection to the clashes at the demonstration, and they were all later released without charges. In the remand hearing of the one of the detainees, the court rejected police allegations that Saada Abu Hatoum hurled stones at police officers before he was arrested, saying that a video tape presented by Abu Hatoum's representatives disproves the police claims. "This tape refutes the version presented by the petitioners and therefore I don't think that there is sufficient suspicion to justify his arrest," the judge wrote.

The tape revealed that Abu Hatoum, a news editor for "Shams" radio and a volunteer with Arab human rights organizations, videotaped an incident in which a police officer kicked another detainee in the face. After that, officers chased him to arrest him, ignoring his calls that he was a journalist. The video footage that he filmed was erased by the police when they confiscated his cell phone, Abu Hartoum said Monday.

Additional photographs and video footage filmed at the scene revealed that other photographers and journalists were attacked by police officers, including the CNN correspondent in Israel.

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Arab Association for Human Rights are planning to submit a report on the incident and demand that the Police Investigations Department look into the events.

Attorney Fahim Daoud of the association said at Monday's press conference that "I thought that the military regime was behind us, but I was wrong. The police have the same attitude toward Arabs as back then, and act like a political party."

The Northern District police rejected the allegations that the violence was premeditated and issued a statement that preserving the public's freedom of expression is the police's highest priority.

According to the police, the organizers of the procession were unable to comply with the police guidelines, despite their efforts, and could not control the protesters who began to act out while spilling into traffic on the road. The police added that the unruly crowd forced them to close off the road, in order to protect the drivers.

The police also responded to the allegations by declaring that the protesters hurled stones at the police forces, wounding several officers, among them a district commander. Several of the officers required hospitalization, the police said.

The police maintained that the crowd dispersal methods they used to subdue the unruly protesters were used within the confines of the law, but added that the protesters had every right to ask the Police Investigations Department to investigate the incident.