The head of an official body that represents Israeli Arabs expressed concern Sunday that his community could suffer a backlash following a deadly attack in which three men from Umm al-Fahm killed two police officers at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
While speaking out against the terror attack, Mohammad Barakeh said a possible chilling effect that could come in its wake were “a source of great worry.”
“It is causing a lot of concern that an individual act could be exploited to launch a campaign of incitement and smear against the general Arab public, especially because of the extreme right-wing government under Netanyahu that delights in such events, to my regret,” Barakeh, head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, told Army Radio.
On Friday, three men from Umm al-Fahm attacked police at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, killing Haiel Sitawe, 30 and Kamil Shnaan, 22, both from Druze villages in northern Israel. A third officer was injured by shrapnel.
The terrorists, Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, 29, Muhammad Hamad Abdel Latif Jabarin, 19 and Muhammad Ahmed Mafdal Jabarin, 19, used two Carlo-style sub-machine guns and a pistol to carry out the Friday attack at an entrance to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. One of them also tried to stab an officer.
After the shooting, the three terrorists, all from the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, fled back to the Temple Mount compound and were shot dead by other police officers on the scene, a police spokesperson said.
Barakeh said that for Israeli Arabs to carry out terror attacks is “against the norms that we have established for ourselves of a public political campaign [for the Palestinian cause and Arab rights].”
The former member of Knesset said the attack was an “individual act” that doesn’t represent the Israeli Arab community and that “the use of weapons is disqualified by all elements of Arab politics in Israel without exception.”
While shootings and stabbings have been common in the Old City of Jerusalem in the past two years, attacks on or near the Temple Mount itself are exceedingly rare.
Also rare was the Israeli attackers Israeli citizenship. Most attackers in a wave of violence since October 2015 have been Palestinian, with only a handful coming from inside Israel.
No terror groups took immediate responsibility for the attack, though Hamas did praise it, saying it was a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” and called for more attacks.
In the aftermath of the attack, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lashed out at Sheikh Raed Salah, the Umm al-Fahm based head of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, of which all three terrorists were members.
Liberman said Salah, who has served several jail terms in Israel for incitement and terrorist connections, “is no different from Islamic State and al-Qaeda.”
Barakeh said authorities should allow the terrorists to be buried by their families in Umm-Al Fahm. Israeli police usually hold onto the bodies of terrorists until the families agree to hold small funerals. Israel fears funerals could turn into rallies that will either incite violence or directly lead to new attacks.
Following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Temple Mount holy site closed until Sunday, a rare move that drew Muslim anger.
Barakeh accused right-wing Jewish groups of stirring unrest on the Temple Mount, an apparent reference to visits by Jews to the compound and campaigns for prayer rights for Jews on the site.
Although he agreed that the use of firearms was “very serious” Barakeh said that “I think those who are interested in inflaming the situation on the sensitive site of the Al-Aksa Mosque…are specifically the right-wing that occasionally make provocations.”
Many right-wing politicians and activists called to change the long-standing arrangements at the holy site that allow Muslim prayer but forbid Jewish prayer and religious rituals.
However, Netanyahu fended off those requests with a blunt statement from his office saying, “the status quo will be protected.”
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report