Hebrew media review

A shooting sparks large riots and larger questions

The issue of whether violent protests in the wake of Kheir Hamdan’s death indicate anger at the police or something bigger looms large in Sunday’s papers

Israeli Arabs seen waving Palestinian and Hamas flags and throwing rocks towards Israeli border policemen at the entrance to the Arab village of Kafr Kanna in northern Israel, on November 8, 2014.  (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli Arabs seen waving Palestinian and Hamas flags and throwing rocks towards Israeli border policemen at the entrance to the Arab village of Kafr Kanna in northern Israel, on November 8, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rock-strewn roads, burning tires, police in riot gear, balaclava-clad youths waving Palestinian flags through clouds of noxious tear gas, grainy black and white footage of somebody’s demise. The pictures in Israeli papers Sunday are the same as many over the last few weeks, but this time the venue, and the specifics of the case, have changed.

After weeks of violence centered in Jerusalem and supposedly sparked by a dispute over the status of the Temple Mount (though that’s like saying the American Civil War was fought over slavery), tension shifted north over the weekend. The shooting death of a knife-wielding suspect in the Arab-Israeli town of Kafr Kanna sparked intense and violent protests in the area, with police again dispatched to quell the disturbances.

Haaretz highlights the Fruitvale Station aspect of the case, with a complicated lead headline telling readers that “Police shoot Arab youth who tried to attack them and then started to retreat; protests break out in north,” accompanied with a series of stills from footage of the shooting of Kheir Hamdan caught on tape.

The paper mostly focuses on the shooting itself, comparing the police’s version of events and what the video shows with a fine-tooth comb.

“Right after the incident, the police claimed that Hamdan attacked them with a knife and since they felt their life was in danger, shot in the air before being forced to shoot him. However, security camera footage released later shows the police may not have kept to the rules of engagement for opening fire … In the video it’s possible to see Hamdan attack the car with something, but not manage to break the windows. After that Hamdan backs off and so the police come out and shoot him.”

The paper’s Yaniv Kubovich notes that the question of whether the cops’ lives really were in danger will be at the heart of an ensuing investigation, and from the video, it looks like they will have an uphill battle: “The police claimed that the moment they were in danger was when Hamdan was knocking on the windows and doors of the cruiser. But if the cops felt their life was in danger then, they should have shot then, from inside the vehicle.”

Yedioth and Israel Hayom both place greater emphasis on the ensuing riots that broke out in Arab-Israeli towns in the region on Saturday. “On the edge of an explosion,” reads the main headline of Yedioth Ahronoth.

Yoaz Hendel, taking stock in the tabloid, notes that this shooting, just like the riots in Jerusalem, are about something larger than they seem.

“What happened in Kafr Kanna was no different from incidents that occurred over the last year in the Arab community, aside from the tragic end. Whoever thinks the Temple Mount is a powder keg discovered that on every hill in Israel is the potential for a conflagration, and every home has religious sensitivities. The Arab community is not quiet, not a thing has changed since the riots of 2000, except maybe the radicalization.…

“The funeral last night was a national one… they waved PLO and Islamic Movement flags, and chants of revenge against the state were heard. The public that took part wasn’t mad at the police, but at fate that caused Jews to rule over them. In Haifa they called for an intifada and chanted slogans from the new campaign to encourage running over Jews. They didn’t rally there against violent rule but against the existence of the State of Israel.”

Israel Hayom looks forward to Sunday’s general strike, which foretells more protests, with the headline “Preparedness at its peak.” The deep frustration and exhaustion felt in Israeli society echoes through its surprisingly frank Page 2 headline: “This is all we needed.”

While Yedioth’s Hendel doesn’t think it’s about the cops, Israel Hayom quotes a relative of Hamdan saying they want the shooter’s head on a plate, and warns that things may yet get worse if they don’t get it: “All the thousands that came here today saw the video with the policeman murdering Hamdan in cold blood. We are relying on the police internal investigations unit and on the state to put this cop behind bars and find him guilty of murder. If this doesn’t happen, all our anger against the police will come out. Everyone in the village knows this cop. He’s worked here several years and even has friends among the residents.”

‘I would have shot, too’

It’s not so clear they will get what they want. Yedioth invites former police commander Aryeh Amit to weigh in, and in a piece that probably won’t win him many friends in the Arab community but likely represents the general feeling among the fuzz, he writes that he would have shot, too.

“Jerusalem was the start, and our pussy-footed management in the capital led to the fact the riots now spread to Israeli Arabs. In the video you clearly see a man come threateningly at the police cruiser with a big knife in his hand. If I were in that situation, I wouldn’t think twice. I would draw my weapon and shoot him. If we don’t give the police backing during these tough times, to do their operational work without fear, we will break down even further, and we are already in a situation of breaking down with the Arab community and Jerusalem.”

In Haaretz’s op-ed page, though, Rogel Alpher contends that the protests, in Kafr Kanna, Jerusalem and elsewhere, are the depressing result of what Israel has become.

“This is not an intifada. It’s not a Palestinian war of independence. This time, too, they won’t establish a state. The Europeans can recognize it as much as they like, but it still won’t be established. It’s a civil war in a binational state,” he writes.

Red letter day

Switching to Iran (remember them?), Israel Hayom interviews Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, who gives the paper a preview of what the new GOP-dominated Senate will do should the US and Iran come to a deal over the nuclear program.

“The US Senate will stand by its right to examine the agreement between the [world] powers and Iran and if it’s a bad deal, we’ll reject,” he’s quoted as saying, based on an English translation of his remarks as reported in Hebrew. “There are new bosses in Washington today, and the big losers, after the mid-term elections, are Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian nuclear program.”

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