Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized Arab-Israeli community leaders Monday for failing to condemn the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank earlier this month, especially given the fact that the abduction had been denounced by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“I’m disappointed that the established leadership of the Arab population [in Israel] did not condemn the act,” Netanyahu said during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, according to Israel Radio.
“It concerns me deeply because these leaders are not willing to do even what Abbas has done.”
The prime minister went on to assert that religious authorities in the Israeli Arab community, specifically the heads of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, aimed to create tension and engender hostility between Arabs and Jews in the country.
Since the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper focused on locating Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested some 400 Palestinians. In recent days, search efforts have focused on an area north of Hebron, where some 1,500 soldiers have been deployed. Some areas are now being searched for the third and fourth time.
The operation has been condemned by some Arab-Israeli activists, who voiced dismay over the IDF’s extensive use of administrative detention, or holding security prisoners without trial, after arresting Palestinians in the West Bank. On Friday, hundreds of mainly Israeli Arab demonstrators blocked a major highway near the northern Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm and hundreds more rallied off the road beside them in protest of the ongoing military operation.
A number of protesters hurled stones at police officers, while several others chanted slogans in favor of the abduction of soldiers, Channel 2 reported.
Channel 2 added that the city’s mayor’s office issued a condemnation of the protest, saying those demonstrating were not residents of Umm al-Fahm, but persons bused in from all over the country to tarnish the city’s name.
Five demonstrators suffered minor injuries throughout the protest and were rushed to a nearby facility for medical treatment, the Ynet news site reported. Two policemen were also reported hurt.
Netanyahu on Sunday accused the Islamic Movement of being behind the weekend rallies and said he would push to outlaw the group.
“Over there weekend there was a demonstration in Umm al-Fahm in which infuriating calls and support for abducting IDF soldiers were heard,” Netanyahu said. “Most Israeli Arabs do not take this view and I call on their leaders to be courageous and strongly condemn such calls.”
A senior official of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, however, on Sunday denied his group had sponsored the demonstration.
The Islamic Movement is led by extremist Arab-Israeli cleric Sheikh Raed Salah, who has been convicted in Israel on a number of charges, including incitement and spitting at a police officer. The organization is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance because of its perceived links with Hamas, as well as with other Muslim groups worldwide.
Spencer Ho and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.