4 former Arab MKs detained on their way to an anti-war protest

Police allege the planned event threatened public order; Hadash slams ‘silencing of voices for peace’

Mohammad Barakeh, chair of umbrella organization for the Arab community, the High Follow-up Committee in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Mohammad Barakeh, chair of umbrella organization for the Arab community, the High Follow-up Committee in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Four prominent Arab Israeli leaders were detained in Nazareth Thursday over planning a protest that police alleged could incite violence and threaten public order.

Balad chair Sami Abou Shahadeh, former Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, former Balad MK Hanin Zoabi, and former Balad chair Mtanes Shihadeh were arrested on their way to what Arab media called “an invitation-only vigil.”

Balad is not represented in the current Knesset after failing to pass the electoral threshold in the 2022 polls. In its years in parliament, it was known as the most hardline of Arab factions.

Police said they had not approved the protest due to concerns it “could lead to incitement and harm to public order, contravening police instructions.” They did not provide further details on the basis for such a determination.

“With Israel in a state of war… all Israeli citizens are expected to respect the law and adhere to police instructions,” the force added.

Barakeh, who was a member of Knesset for 15 years, currently serves as chair of the umbrella organization for the Arab community, the High Follow-up Committee.

Dozens of Arab Israeli leaders were apparently planning to attend the Thursday morning protest, which was not advertised to the wider public.

Hadash slammed the arrests. “An attack from the Ben Gvir-Netanyahu government on the Arab leadership is an attack on the Arab public, with the aim of provoking tensions between Jews and Arabs, and silencing voices calling for peace and an end to the war.”

Israel is fighting a fierce war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the terror group’s October 7 massacre, when thousands of terrorists invaded from Gaza and slaughtered some 1,400 people, most of them civilians, while also kidnapping at least 240 Israelis and foreign nationals to the Strip.

Palestinians protest against Israel in the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 18, 2023. (Flash90)

After his release on Thursday, Barakeh said that his detention was “like a commando operation. They want to suppress our voices and we won’t have that. Those who want to start a war against us should know that these measures will not budge from our position.”

The detentions came a day after the High Court of Justice rejected a petition demanding the police be ordered to approve an anti-war demonstration in the Arab Israeli towns of Umm al-Fahm and Sakhnin. The court instead sided with the police that such an event would divert critical manpower during a time of intense security challenges.

“Many policemen would need to be diverted for this purpose at the expense of emergency, life-saving missions,” Justice Isaac Amit wrote in his opinion. He added, however, that “the gates of protest, demonstration and processions are open also during times of war” and that the decision related only to the specific request made by the petitioners.

Amit wrote therefore that the police must continue to evaluate every request to hold a protest on its own merits and based on the circumstances.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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