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MK among 35 hurt as cops fire rubber bullets, stun grenades at Arab protest

Police say they were responding to violent riot, but demonstrators accuse officers of using excessive force; Umm al-Fahm mayor and MK Yousef Jabareen among wounded

Police disperse a protest against violence in Arab communities, in Umm al-Fahm on February 26, 2021. (Israel Police)
Police disperse a protest against violence in Arab communities, in Umm al-Fahm on February 26, 2021. (Israel Police)

At least 35 demonstrators, including an Arab mayor and a parliamentarian, were wounded following clashes with police at a protest against the spread of organized crime in the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm on Friday.

Police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons as they clashed with hundreds of demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm, who were protesting law enforcement’s alleged unwillingness to fight a rising tide of violence in Arab cities and towns.

Arab Israeli officials accused police of racist behavior and using excessive force to deal with the protests. Video from the scene also showed police violently beating and kicking protestors as they lay on the ground.

Umm al-Fahm residents have been holding weekly demonstrations against violence and organized crime for nearly a month and a half. Since the beginning of 2021, 21 Arabs have died violently inside Israel.

Medics said at least 35 protesters were injured at Friday’s protest, including Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen. Jabareen was hit in the back with a rubber bullet during the protest; the parliamentarian was rushed to a local hospital and was released later in the evening.

Umm al-Fahm mayor Samir Subhi Mahameed, who accompanied Jabareen, was also struck by officers and received medical treatment.

Another man was in serious condition after apparently being struck in the head with a stun grenade. The victim, an Umm al-Fahm resident identified solely by his first name, Muhannad, was taken to the Rambam hospital in Haifa for emergency treatment.

At least 11 of the protesters were hospitalized, while the rest were treated at the scene.

Police said eight officers were lightly hurt and said police were responding to demonstrators hurling stones at them.

“Despite repeated attempts during the week to reach understandings with the protest leaders, including the mayor, we did not receive their cooperation, which led to a violent riot from which civilians and police were injured,” Israel Police said in a statement.

According to police, officers had responded to a violent riot during which protesters attempted to block the entrance to Umm al-Fahm as well as an adjacent highway. Four people were arrested at the scene for involvement in violent disturbances.

Mahameed denied police were attacked, saying protests were peaceful until officers began using force to disperse the crowd.

“The ones who started it were the police, without any provocation on our part,” Mahameed told The Times of Israel.

“There was a silent prayer. The preacher gave a Friday sermon telling worshipers not to behave violently. Then young activists starting marching with 21 coffins — symbolizing the 21 victims this year in Arab society. Without any provocation, police started spraying water at the protesters and hurling stun grenades and firing rubber bullets,” Mahameed recalled.

Footage from the scene shows officers shoving him after a commander pointed in his direction.

“Then I heard the station commander tell his forces, ‘I do not want to see anyone here,’ and told his officers to attack me specifically. That’s when they beat my head,” the mayor said.

Mahameed acknowledged that some Umm al-Fahm residents had thrown stones at police, but maintained that police had provoked the confrontation. Before the police began to forcefully disperse the crowd, he said, the demonstration had been entirely peaceful.

“As for communicating with us and working to establish calm? There has been nothing of the kind. Today, they began pummeling the young protesters immediately,” Mahameed claimed.

One clip showed police shoving with a riot shield a woman into traffic.

In another clip, officers are seen clearing a main square using police shields, with one of the cops shoving to the ground an unsuspecting older woman who was facing the other direction as another officer lunged at Jabareen.

“The brutal and racist police attacked non-violent protesters who were simply demanding personal security in the face of the crime in Umm al-Fahm,” said Jabareen, adding that an officer struck him in the back with a stun grenade resulting in injuries that required hospitalization.

“The commander of the Umm al-Fahm police station must resign immediately. This is the demand of the entire Arab public. The police, who are tough on protesters and weak on criminals, will not break us. We will continue the protest,” the lawmaker added.

Organized crime is largely seen as the engine of the spread of violence in Arab cities and towns. Arab Israelis blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations.

The number of homicides among Jewish Israelis since 2016 has remained relatively constant: 38 in 2016, 44 in 2017, 35 in 2018, and 36 in 2019, according to the Israel Police.

Among Arabs, however, it has skyrocketed over that same period: 64 in 2016, 67 in 2017, 71 in 2018, 89 in 2019, and 96 in 2020, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, which works to advance shared society initiatives in Israel.

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