Four arrested in Rahat anti-police protests

Tensions rise in Bedouin town after two die in clashes with police; advocacy group calls general strike in Arab communities

Illustrative: The Bedouin town of Rahat in the northern Negev. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: The Bedouin town of Rahat in the northern Negev. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Four young men were arrested Monday night for allegedly taking part in anti-police riots in the southern Bedouin town of Rahat, a day after a funeral turned violent, leaving one man dead.

Several dozen local youth threw stones at police vehicles and at the city’s police station following the funeral of Samy al-Ziadne, one of two Rahat residents who died in recent days in clashes with police.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an influential Arab advocacy group, called on Monday for a general strike in the Israeli Arab community in the wake of the shootings. Schools and businesses in the Arab sector are expected to close Tuesday, while several Arab towns and villages are planning demonstrations over allegations of police violence.

Rahat Mayor Talal al-Krenawi called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “wise up” to what was going on.

Ziadne died of an apparent heart attack during violent clashes with police Sunday, which followed a funeral for another Rahat resident allegedly killed by police last week.

Rahat resident Sami al-Jaar, 20, was killed during a drug bust last Thursday, police said, but officials insisted he was not killed by deliberate police fire. According to the police account of Jaar’s death, policemen shot in the air after they were attacked with stones as they entered Rahat to arrest several people for drug-related crimes. Jaar, who was standing near the exchange, was hit accidentally.

The account met with widespread skepticism in the city. A demonstration was called for Sunday to protest Jaar’s death, followed by a planned general strike in the city on Monday, Israel Radio reported.

Ziadne died and another city resident was seriously injured when the Sunday protest turned into violent clashes with police. Twenty other people were hurt during the disturbances. According to Israel Radio, Ziadne died of a heart attack during the furor.

Police said they were attacked Sunday by dozens of stone-throwing funeral-goers and called for backup. One policeman was moderately hurt and another lightly injured from thrown stones. Police dispersed the protestors with riot-dispersal equipment.

An investigation has been opened into the case.

“It is totally criminal,” Rahat Mayor Krenawi said Monday of the police’s handling of the riots. “This just can’t be ignored.

“The prime minister needs to wake up. Not everything is primaries. Not everything is elections,” he told Army Radio. “These are citizens who want to live. These are your citizens, Prime Minister, wise up!”

Krenawi added that he will demand that an investigative committee look into the events of the past several days, which have also left dozens injured, including some policemen.

Another Arab Israeli advocacy group, Adalah, criticized police for being too combative in their dealings with Arab and Bedouin groups, and in particular in light of ongoing tensions over unrecognized Bedouin villages in southern Israel.

“The murderous acts by the police against Arab citizens have become a routine matter, and this is not the first time that the Israeli police have tried to justify their crimes against Arab citizens by spreading lies,” Adalah said in a statement.

“Ever since the shelving of the Prawer Plan the Israeli police have taken a particularly violent and aggressive approach against the Arab-Bedouin citizens with the intention of ‘teaching them a lesson,’” the statement continued.

Large segments of the Bedouin population live a semi-nomadic existence in unplanned tent villages that dot the Negev landscape. The government-backed Prawer Plan, canceled in 2013, called for Israel to officially recognize and register many of these “unrecognized villages,” while relocating residents of others into towns and planned communities. The government argued that the growing population required planning and urbanization, while Arab activists insisted the plan amounted to a land-grab driven by anti-Arab prejudice.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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