Umm al-Fahm: We Won't Let Rightists Into Town

More than 2,500 police will be on duty today in and around Umm al-Fahm, Israel's largest Arab city, where right-wing protesters plan to march after receiving High Court approval.

The marchers were refused permission to enter the city itself, however, and may march only on roads outside residential areas, but within the city's municipal boundaries.

Police officers with dogs yesterday patrolled the protest route, searching for roadside bombs. Others visited the area to prepare for being stationed there today.

At the same time, police in the town are readying to disperse residents from gathering at the three entrances to the town, in an attempt to keep the marchers from entering. Haaretz has learned that in each of the city's four main neighborhoods, residents are organizing for what they see as an inevitable clash with the right-wingers.

"If the authorities do not change their mind and ban the march, we will have to prepare for clashes," one local political leader said yesterday.

The march organizers, for their part, are concerned that police will do just that, and that the procession will be cancelled at the last minute.

Right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir told Haaretz yesterday, "Cancellation of the march would be a sign that the police force is bankrupt. If they cannot protect us, it's a sign that they should not be in their position."

Ben-Gvir said organizers are not worried about possible clashes and plan to acquiesce to a police request that they not bring their weapons to the march.

'We're not afraid of Arab gangs'

"We live in a city of 150,000 Arabs and we are not afraid of the gangs in Umm al-Fahm," said Ben-Gvir, a longtime resident of Hebron. "I cannot understand how nobody has been arrested in the town, given the threats made against us," he added.

The organizers of march sent a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday, urging him to ensure police take firm action against "the many incidents of incitement recorded so far." In the letter, the organizers say they were "surprised to discover that the police have done nothing to stamp out this phenomenon and to implement the law - which could encourage the thugs to believe that their threats will have the desired effect and that the police will cancel the march."

In Umm al-Fahm yesterday, a small group of protesters set up a vigil outside the town's police station, calling for the procession to be banned.

Umm al-Fahm mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamdan said at a press conference yesterday that residents will prevent the right-wingers from entering their town, and will use force if necessary.

"We have no desire for clashes," he said, "and we are not planning on confrontations with the marchers or the police. Our position is that we will try to block them with our bodies, but peacefully and quietly."

Meanwhile, a general strike has been called in Umm al-Fahm today. Businesses, schools and government offices will be closed to protest the rightist march. MK Afu Aghbaria (Hadash) also called on the Israeli left to join the counter-demonstrations in the city. He claimed that the incoming government could adopt a similar approach to Israeli Arabs as the rightist marchers.

"When they attack Umm al-Fahm, they attack the entire Israeli-Arab population. We will protect our town and our homeland," he said.