Thousands of Israeli Arab protesters massed Saturday afternoon and evening along the main street of the Galilee town Kafr Kanna, protesting what they said was state terror in the death of 22-year-old local man Kheir Hamdan on Friday night. The town mayor called the incident “murder in cold blood.”
Demonstrators carried posters bearing Hamdan’s picture which read “His only crime was being Arab,” and chanting “Zionists, get out of our lives.” They waved Palestinian flags, and called for the dismissal of the police officers involved in Friday night’s shooting, senior police chiefs, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. They decried the police’s “light trigger finger” which they said led to Hamdan being shot and killed.
Mayor Majhad Awadeh and MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) participated in the protest, as did several Arab former MKs. An Arab umbrella group called for a state-wide general strike Sunday by Arab workers in response to the shooting.
MK Ahmad Tibi, speaking from Kafr Kanna, told Channel 2 that such an incident would never have happened in a Jewish community in Israel. “This was an execution,” he said.
Hundreds of Arab youths rioted at the entrance to the town, setting tires alight, and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Four residents were arrested on suspicion of disturbing the peace. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Police said Hamdan tried to stab an officer during an attempt to arrest him in the town, which is near Nazareth. Officials said officers arrived at Hamdan’s house late Friday night to arrest him on suspicion of throwing a stun grenade. When he attempted to stab one of the officers, the police shot and critically injured him, they said. Police added that they warned the man by firing in the air, and when he didn’t desist, he was shot in the chest.
A short, edited surveillance video of the incident, which surfaced Saturday on the popular Israeli-Arab news website Panet, showed a different sequence of events.
In it, Hamdan is seen attacking a police van, banging on the windows. An officer gets out and, as Hamdan is seen retreating, shoots him. Hamdan writhes on the ground, before police drag him into the van.
He was taken to hospital where he died of his wounds.
“It’s murder in cold blood. It’s state terror that exposes the false democracy,” Mayor Awadeh said. “They treat us like residents under military rule, they treat us like enemies.”
“We expect the public security minister to dismiss the regional police chief immediately and also the officers responsible for the unit that entered our village this morning. Every child and every Arab who saw this video was hurt. We expect an investigative committee and we’ll act with legal recourse.
“We won’t be silent about this crime that was committed by people that are supposed to uphold the law.”
Hamdan’s uncle, Rafaa Amara, was quoted by Channel 2 criticizing the police, saying that his nephew “was retreating on foot. He wasn’t fleeing. They could have shot him in the leg, but to kill him, to treat him like he was a sheep? That we’ve never seen.”
“We will act so that those who did this will be brought to justice,” he said.
Hamdan’s burial was scheduled for 7 p.m.
Earlier in the day, Tibi, from the Arab political party Ra’am-Ta’al, called the shooting a “mafia-style execution.”
“An officer shoots Kheir Hamdan in Kafr Kanna after he is seen retreating and walking away. He is immediately dragged and mounted in the car savagely. It’s a mafia-style execution,” Tibi wrote on Twitter.
After the video surfaced, police said they were launching an investigation into the killing. Police chief Yohanan Danino called an emergency meeting on the situation.