Arab leaders on Tuesday announced a state of emergency following the killing of a protester during a riot in an Israeli Arab town, saying Mohammed Taha’s death was “murder.”
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel announced a day of mourning and blamed the government for the events in in Kafr Qassem overnight. The committee said a nationwide strike in the Arab sector was expected Wednesday, with protests throughout the country.
Taha was killed as guards opened fire on a riot outside a police station in the Israeli Arab city. Police said the protest, sparked by the arrest of a local man, quickly turned violent, with police cars set alight and officers pelted with stones.
The incident came amid spiraling tensions between police and locals, who have complained about shoddy law enforcement in the central Israel city.
Taha’s father Mahmoud accused the person killed his son of murder in the shooting.
“Everyone who was there will testify he posed no danger to the man who murdered him,” Taha said in comments carried by the Ynet news website. “And if he had posed a danger they should have shot him in the leg — not three bullets to the head…In the head it’s murder.”
Officials said an investigation was launched into the death of 27-year-old Taha, who was shot by a security guard protecting the station and pronounced dead after being rushed to Beilinson Hospital in nearby Petah Tikva.
Police said initial findings showed the guard had fired out of fear for his life.
Taha’s father accused police of “having a light trigger finger, especially against Arabs…I hope God punishes [the guard]. My son is a victim of police hatred. [They] are a danger to the Arab public.
“They ruined our lives and I hope God ruins theirs.”
At least two police officers were reportedly lightly injured in the violent demonstration.
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The protest began as residents of the central Israel city gathered outside a police station to protest the arrest of a local man, adding to already raised tensions between police and locals in recent weeks.
Kafr Qassem residents have criticized police’s inability to crack down on crime in the city — where multiple murders have occurred in recent months — and have set up a civilian defense guard, a move the authorities have opposed, Haaretz reported.
Police said officers manning a checkpoint and checking licenses attempted to arrest a local man at about 11:30 p.m. Monday, after they saw he was wanted in an investigation.
Locals said the man was a private security guard who had been hired by locals precisely because of police’s apparent inability to protect the population from violent crime. Kafr Qassem mayor Adel Badir accused police of brutality in making the arrest, saying they used a Taser against regulations.
According to a police statement, the man resisted arrest and some 50 others also attacked officers, with the suspect managing to briefly escape. After the man and another protester were caught and taken away, “hundreds of protesters began to riot at a police station in the city hall, in which there was a single officer and several security guards,” police said.
“I don’t know anywhere else in Israel where hundreds of people will riot against a police station with stones, fire, burning cruisers,” a police spokesman told Army Radio. “We won’t allow this to become normal. Nobody, not local officials or civilians — will decide for the police if they can carry out routine enforcement activity or not.”
The shooting and police conduct drew harsh responses from Arab legislators Tuesday morning.
Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh said police were “not only neglecting the safety of our streets, by failing to solve murders, but is itself attacking and harming citizens. Police continue to treat the Arab population as enemies to be defended against, and not citizens to be defended.”
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said the community was enraged by the “murder” of Taha and demanded a thorough investigation into its circumstances.
Meretz party MK Issawi Frej said that while there was “no justification” for the violence of rioters, “there is also no justification for the swiftness with which the trigger was pulled” against Taha.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan criticized the lawmakers for not taking the officers’ side.
“I haven’t heard of a country where politicians, based on their opinion on whether an arrest was justified, back severe violence against policemen,” Erdan told Army Radio. “Maybe anarchies are like that, not nations under rule of law.”
He also blamed the lack of law enforcement on “some in the Arab population who seek to terrorize anyone who would help police increase their presence in the communities.”
Erdan said he was working to rectify the “decades old problem,” with a proposed increase in budget for Arab towns and efforts to recruit Muslim officers in the communities. He noted that police data showed reductions in crime in the Arab population in recent years.