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Bennett defends police action in Kafr Kanna shooting

Jewish Home leader says man Friday was ‘frenzied Arab terrorist’; PM vows to strip citizenship of those who call to destroy Israel

Economy Minister and Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett. (Photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash 90)
Economy Minister and Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett. (Photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash 90)

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Saturday defended police conduct in Friday night’s shooting death of an Arab man in Kafr Kanna, saying the officers acted appropriately under the circumstances. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, vowed to revoke the citizenship of those who call for Israel’s destruction — an apparent response to denunciations of Israel and support for “Palestine” among Israeli Arab demonstrators Saturday.

Bennett was responding to criticism of the police by Israeli Arab leaders following Friday night’s incident in which police shot and killed 22-year-old Kheir Hamdan, who allegedly attempted to stab officers who were dispatched to arrest him in the Galilean town. His remarks were made as thousands attended Hamdan’s funeral in Kafr Kanna, and hundreds belonging to the Islamic Movement gathered in Haifa and called for a third intifada.

“A frenzied Arab terrorist attacked our police officers with a knife in an attempt to kill them. The response of our police was what was expected of our security people,” the economics minister said.

“It’s possible and necessary to investigate. Always. But it’s not ‘murder in cold blood,'” Ynet quoted him saying, in reference to remarks by the mayor of Kafr Kanna about Hamdan’s death. “We definitely must not abandon our security forces who were sent to protect us.”

Bennett went so far as to draw a correlation between Hamdan and the perpetrators of attacks in recent weeks on Israeli civilians and security personnel in Jerusalem.

“If we don’t give support we’ll see more and more Israelis murdered with knives, firecrackers and run over by cars,” he said, referring to the use of firecrackers by Palestinian protesters against police in Jerusalem, and the recent attacks in Jerusalem in which Palestinians careened into pedestrians. Four people were killed in two car attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks, and many others injured.

Netanyahu responded to the rioting in Kafr Kanna following Hamdan’s death, saying that those who don’t respect the law will be punished with “utmost severity.”

“Israel is a nation of law. We will not tolerate disturbances and rioting,” the prime minister said in a statement. “We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel. Whoever does not honor Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Left-wing politicians, however, leveled blame at Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Gal-on said that the police officers involved in the shooting should be investigated, but so should Aharonovitch, “who just last week said that ‘a terrorist who harms civilians should be sentenced to death,’ as the person who gave the seal of approval for murder and a clearly illegal order.”

“The norms of the occupation and police assassinations that have seeped from the territories into Jerusalem are threatening the Arab citizens of Israel,” Gal-on said.

Meretz MK Issawi Freij said that the actions of the police in Kafr Kanna were carried out in the spirit of Aharonovitch, “who demanded that police kill anyone who ‘harms’ Israeli citizens. He is responsible for the death in Kafr Kanna, no less than the police who pulled the trigger.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, on the other hand, voiced support Saturday for Aharonovitch’s remarks, saying that “every terrorist who harms civilians should be sentenced to death, and [I] support the Israel Police for acting in this spirit of zero tolerance for terrorism.”

“Incidents such as those that took place in recent days and yesterday,” he said, referring to the shooting of Hamdan, “are grave occurrences, [and] we must deal with them accordingly — with determination and efficiency.”

Kadima party MK and deputy speaker of the Knesset Nahman Shai wrote on Facebook that the incident in Kafr Kanna “is another step in the deterioration of the security situation.”

“We’re standing before a large, large test in Jewish-Arab relations. It’s liable to widen to a conflict whose scope we haven’t seen in many years,” Shai wrote. “We must not settle for an internal police investigation, but we must appoint an external investigation body to urgently investigate the incident, transparently and openly. Time is of great importance, before the fire spreads. Knesset must discuss the issue urgently.”

Police said Hamdan tried to stab an officer during an attempt to arrest a relative of his on Friday night in the town, which is near Nazareth. Officials said officers arrived to arrest the relative on suspicion of throwing a stun grenade. When Hamdan 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.

After the video surfaced, police said they were launching an investigation into the killing, and the police district involved said it would lend full cooperation to the investigation. Police chief Yohanan Danino called an emergency meeting on the situation.

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