Only a few days ago, Israel’s Palestinian citizens marked 15 years since the October 2000 demonstrations during which 13 people were killed and hundreds wounded by the police force. The events of the past week provoke a sense of déjà vu. Then it was opposition leader Ariel Sharon who visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which led to an escalation; today, Knesset members from the right are initiating similar visits. Then, Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank who protested changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa were killed and wounded, which sparked the violent events in Israel, and so it has been in recent days. Then there was a wave of incitement and calls to boycott businesses operated by Arab citizens of Israel, and so it is today.
In both periods Arab citizens were killed by gunfire from only a few meters away and even at point-blank range, and in two cases the shooting violated the rules of engagement. But if in October 2000 the police considered demonstrations and confrontations a legitimate arena for opening fire, today it’s enough for a few Jews who see someone suspicious to yell “terrorist, shoot!” for him or her to take a hail of bullets.
That’s what happened to Fadi Aloun of Jerusalem, who was shot at very close range, and to Asra’a Abed in Afula. Neither posed an immediate threat that justified the use of live fire. Both could have been arrested unharmed, even if the claims that they were carrying knives are correct.
The events of these days are in some way a continuation of the events then. They are a result of the immunity given to the police who killed civilians in October 2000 but were never held accountable for their actions, despite the conclusions and recommendations of the Or Commission, which examined those events and determined that the shooting and killing were illegal. The panel even recommended criminal investigations against each of the police officers involved and their commanders. Even so, then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz gave full immunity for these killings, and even justified the actions of the policemen when he claimed they were operating in “battlefield” conditions.
If the authorities decided then to close all the cases against the policemen in October 2000, why should the policemen of October 2015 hesitate to violate the rules of engagement? If the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers did nothing following the explicit conclusions of a government commission of inquiry, why should today’s police respond to a request from Aloun’s family to conduct an autopsy so that the circumstances of his death can be investigated?
What’s more, some of those responsible for the killing in October 2000 have been promoted to senior positions. Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sau is now the acting police commissioner, and if it hadn’t been for vehement protests by representatives of Arab citizens he might have been appointed commissioner. According to the Or Commission, Sau was a party to the illegal orders given to the police snipers to fire at Arab demonstrators, with three snipers focused on one target. As a result of these orders, Misleh Abu Jarad was killed.
In addition, since October 2000 there have been significant changes to the status of Arabs in Israel. Instead of complying with the Or Commission recommendations to eliminate discrimination against Arab citizens, the Knesset has passed racist laws, based on the notion that Palestinians constitute a “fifth column” and a security threat due to their national affiliation.
This perception is the focus of the Citizenship Law, which denies Palestinians the option of moving to Israel for the purposes of family reunification. It’s also the approach at the heart of the “admission committees law,” which allows certain types of small Israeli communities to reject Arabs on the grounds of “social or cultural incompatibility.” Representatives of the attorney general defended these laws before the High Court of Justice without any reservations.
The law enforcement authorities, therefore, contribute to the violence against Arab citizens. Since October 2000, Israeli police have killed more than 50 Arab citizens, and the racism against the Arab minority is intensifying. Those responsible for upholding the rule of law are the ones who supported policemen and commanders who shot citizens dead, and they are the ones defending racist anti-Arab laws in court.
The author is an attorney with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
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