Umm al-Fahm Mayor: Rightists Will Never March Even a Meter Through Our City

Police feared demonstration in Israeli Arab city would spark violence; residents had vowed to block march 'with their bodies.'

The mayor of Umm al-Fahm said on Sunday that even if rightist demonstrators march through his city at a later date as planned, residents will turn out in force to prevent it. The march, scheduled for today, was postponed on Sunday until further notice amid police fears it could result in life-threatening violence.

At a press conference on Sunday, newly elected mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamadan said that "even in the future, we'll prevent them from entering Umm al-Fahm in that way." Another municipal official said, "We won't let them march even one meter within the city's territory, and certainly not 800 meters," referring to the planned length of the procession.

Extremists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel on Sunday petitioned the High Court of Justice after police decided to delay until further notice a demonstration planned by right-wing activists through the Israeli Arab city.

"It doesn't matter what the reasons are for the cancellation, what matters is that this is the right decision," added Hamadan, who represents the Islamic Movement. "Police should have canceled the march a long time ago. We hope this isn't just a postponement, but a full cancellation."

Hamadan and representatives of other influential political bodies in the city, urged Jewish residents of nearby communities to continue visiting the city despite the ongoing dispute.

"Before the march has even commenced we have made a great achievement. We have proven what we've claimed all along - that there are hypocrisy and double standards in the system," said Ben-Gvir.

The two requested that the court not only overturn the decision to postpone the march, but also to warrant the arrest of those responsible for its delay, Northern District Police Chief Shimon Coren and Umm al-Fahm Police Chief Shimon Ben-Shabo. The march had already been approved by the court over a month ago.

"Two weeks ago government supporters spoke of the disputed house in Hebron and the need to enforce the court's decision, and now everyone allows themselves to disregard the decision," said Ben-Gvir in his appeal.

"The petition was made in order to enforce the court's decision and allow us the same freedom of speech as the leftists," he added.

The demonstration, scheduled for Monday, had been postponed due to police fears the march could result in life threatening violence.

A senior police source told Haaretz on Sunday that the decision to delay the march was made following extensive assessments and meetings among the uppermost echelon of the police. He said that intelligence has been gathered over recent days indicating that violent clashes could erupt should the rightists march as planned, and potentially spill into the entire northern district.

"There was a real danger that lives could be lost," said the source. "That is why it was decided not to allow the march to proceed."

He added that the police will reassess the situation in two weeks and set a new date for the march.

Labor MK Ofir Pines-Paz said in response to the police decision "I welcome the decision to postpone the march - a dangerous provocation has been prevented."

At the end of October, when the High Court of Justice decided to allow the right-wing activists to demonstrate in Umm al-Fahm, Menashe Regional Council head Ilan Sadeh asked police to block the protest.

Sadeh said the march would seriously harm the social fabric of cooperation and tolerance between ethnic groups in the area, and was planning a counter-demonstration. "We plan to physically prevent the right-wing activists from entering Umm al-Fahm," he said.

Members of the regional council were expected to join volunteers from the Kibbutz Movement, which called on members "to come and form a human chain against the provocative acts of the extreme right."

Sadeh and outgoing Umm al-Fahm mayor Sheikh Hashem Abd al-Rahman head a forum of Wadi Ara local councils, established in the wake of the October 2000 riots that erupted in the north during the Second Intifada.

"Cooperation between the councils in the Wadi Ara region has led in recent years to a cooperative way of life based on tolerance and mutual respect, and to development in a number of areas," said the two leaders, listing "a program to establish a cooperative industrial area, which has already received the necessary authorization, a sewage treatment facility, joint handling of environmental issues and cooperative educational activities."

"The demonstration is like gunpowder," said Sadeh. "The rightist activists are likely to drag the area and the entire country into a violent confrontation between Jews and Arabs."

Kibbutz Movement secretary general Ze'ev Shor said, "As citizens who support peace and coexistence in Israeli society, the Kibbutz Movement is calling on its members to enlist Monday to block the racist demonstration in an effort to deepen the drive for peace, coexistence and cooperative living."

Yoel Marshak, the head of the movement's special assignments division, said, "We will stand, Jews and Arabs, in a human chain, hand in hand, to prevent the settlers from staging this racist provocation in the streets of Umm al-Fahm."

The Umm al-Fahm municipality is set to deploy security personnel at every entrance to the city when the march takes place . Newly elected mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamadan said Saturday, "This demonstration presents a danger to relations between Jews and Arabs, to coexistence and to peace. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, against it."

During the court hearing in October, right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said that as long as the court allows left-wing activists to protest outside of houses in the Jewish quarter of Hebron, then rightists must be allowed to march in Umm al-Fahm.