Arab MK and Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalka was forcibly ejected from a committee meeting Monday after he refused to apologize for saying that Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino’s hands were covered in blood over the way police handled recent riots in East Jerusalem.
Zahalka caused an uproar with comments he made during an Interior and Environment Protection committee meeting as parliamentarians reviewed the police handling of the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month. The debate expanded to discuss rioting in East Jerusalem that was sparked by the killing of an Arab teenager by Jewish extremists apparently in revenge for the slain Israeli teens.
As the committee viewed video footage of riots in East Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount, Zahalka asserted that the Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews, is “occupied territory” and that the police have no business entering the compound.
“You are criminals,” Zahalka said loudly to the police representatives in the meeting.
“You are a criminal; you support terror,” retorted committee chairperson Miri Regev (Likud).
As tempers flared Zahalka directed his wrath at Danino.
“The police commissioner’s hands are covered in blood,” he shouted.
The comment sparked a furious response from Regev who demanded that Zahalka apologize.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Regev said. “Who do you think you are? Apologize, get out of here, you help terrorists.”
“I will not leave!” Zahalka shouted back.
MK Moti Yogev of the national-religious Jewish Home party waded into the argument, telling Zahalka he should leave the country.
“Go to Syria, go whereever you want, go to your friends in Syria, to any neighboring Arab country,” he said. “On the Temple Mount our temple will be built in our time.”
As the shouting continued and Zahalka refused to retract his comments about the police commissioner, Regev ordered the Knesset ushers to escort him from the room. Zahalka, however, put up a determined struggle, gripping his chair in an effort to remain in place.
As additional ushers arrived they managed to pry the reluctant MK from his seat but the verbal exchange continued.
“That’s right, 1, 2, 3, lift him up in his seat like it is his birthday,” mocked Regev. “Then fling him to Gaza.”
“Your hands too [are covered in blood],” Zahalka leveled at Regev.
“Haters of Israel here in the Knesset,” Regev yelled at the retreating figure of Zahalka as, surrounded by ushers, he left the room. “Trojan horses, traitors and terrorists.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al), who was present, called Regev to task for her handling of the situation and nearly set off another spat, but the MKs finally settled down and continued with the meeting.
Zahalka later appeared on Channel 2 news to explain the incident but the studio interview quickly descended into another shouting match before the broadcast switched to cover a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on Ashdod.
The MK is no stranger to provocative comments. Last month Zahalka said that the Palestinian “struggle for national liberation” was not terrorism but rather “a just struggle to right a historical wrong.”
Addressing the Knesset plenum, Zahalka expressed support for Arab MKs who have come under attack for refusing to characterize the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank as a terror act, and the group said to be responsible, Hamas, a terror organization.
“We will not agree to have a struggle for national liberation labeled terrorism,” Zahalka said. “We will not make compromises with the occupation… we will tell them the truth, which is our historic obligation.”
MK Hanin Zoabi, also of Zahalka’s Balad party, faced severe public backlash for her statements the week before that the kidnappers were not terrorists but rather “people who do not see any way of changing their situation and they have to resort to these measures until Israel sobers up.”