A police officer was questioned under caution Sunday for suspected unlawful use of force, after video footage appeared to show him slapping a man in the face during a traffic stop in the southern Bedouin town of Rahat that devolved into violence.
The officer, who has not been named, was released after he was questioned by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department and ordered to stay away from the police station he is based out of until the end of the week.
A number of other police and citizens who witnessed the incident were also questioned, Hadashot TV news reported, though the officer in the video was the only person questioned under caution.
On Friday, police said dozens of Rahat residents violently attacked officers after they tried to pull over an unlicensed driver. When the driver refused to stop, police said he led officers on a chase through the town. When officers caught up to the vehicle, three passengers emerged armed with a club and rocks and attacked the officers, while encouraging dozens of bystanders to join in, police said.
Two suspects from the car were arrested, and two officers were hospitalized for injuries sustained in the incident.
Videos of the brawl uploaded online appeared to show an officer in civilian clothing slapping a member of the crowd in the face as he was being led away by police. It was unclear what prompted the incident and whether it happened before or after the residents clashed with the officers.
תיעוד של שוטר שסוטר לעצור במהלך פעילות למעצר נהג ללא רישיון ברהט. מהמשטרה נמסר כי נהג הרכב החל בנהיגה פרועה והשוטרים אחריו. 3 הנוסעים ירדו אל השוטרים עם אבנים ואלות. השוטרים הותקפו בידי עשרות תושבי רהט שיידו לעברם אבנים.
אחד מהנוסעים נעצר בתם מאבק ושימוש בטייזר יחד עם תושב רהט pic.twitter.com/DcjqMY3I0u
— ilana curiel (@ilanacuriel) May 25, 2018
According to reports in Hebrew-language media, police are continuing to search for other residents involved in the scuffle.
The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court rejected an appeal by Osama Abu Siam and Yusuf al-Obra, who are suspected of attacking police officers during the incident, to be released from custody. The court earlier ordered their remand be extended by four days.
During the hearing, police said Abu Siam lifted a rock to throw at officers during the clashes while yelling “I’ll slaughter the Jew,” the Walla news site reported.
On Saturday, hundreds of Rahat residents took to the streets to protest the official version of events, saying Friday’s incident was indicative of what they termed systemic discrimination and violence toward Arabs in Israel.
The attorney for one of suspects said the online videos of the incident prove that “there was no chase, the police officers were not beaten up, only the detainee,” according to Hadashot news. Natalie Atoun also said that officers called her client a “dirty Arab.”
זה מה שקרה הערב ברחוב אל סלאם "השלום"בעיר רהט שבנגב pic.twitter.com/LDlkalDLne
— sami abed alhamed سامي عبد الحميد (@samiaah10) May 25, 2018
On Saturday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted that the images from the incident in Rahat “require an investigation,” saying there was “no justification for using unwarranted force police.” He vowed that “no leniency” would be shown to violent police officers.
The incident in Rahat comes amid heightened Jewish-Arab tensions in Israel as Arab activists have accused police of violently suppressing a Gaza solidarity rally in Haifa last weekend and illegally arresting participants.
Twenty-one people were detained at a rally against the deaths of dozens Palestinians during Hamas-led clashes with troops at the Gaza border in recent weeks. One activist — Jafar Farah, chairman of the Mossawa rights group — sustained a broken knee and had to be hospitalized. He says that a police officer kicked his leg, shattering his knee, while he was held overnight.
The Police Internal Investigation Department, which is independent of the police force, was examining the incident.