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Human Rights Watch says Israel used excessive force against Arabs during May unrest

NY-based group accuses police officers of acting ‘half-heartedly and unevenly’ in cases of violence against Arab Israelis during clashes in Lod; police force rejects allegations

File: Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
File: Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Human Rights Watch accused Israeli police on Tuesday of using “excessive force” against Arab protesters in the mixed city of Lod during May’s unrest amid fighting in the Gaza Strip, while treating Jewish rioters more favorably.

The violence in Lod, in central Israel, came as tensions surged in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian protesters facing eviction clashed with security forces, and fighting flared between Israel troops and Gaza-based Palestinian terror groups.

The rioting in Lod between May 10 and May 14 was carried out by both Arab and Jewish residents, according to multiple officials and witnesses, with both Jewish and Muslim places of worship vandalized.

Police have said that the overwhelming majority of violence was committed by Arab Israelis, with only scattered acts of violence by Jewish extremists.

But HRW said in its report: “The police appeared to act half-heartedly and unevenly to violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel committed by Jewish ultra-nationalists.”

The group cited instances where police “failed to act in a timely manner to protect Palestinian residents of Lod” from violent Jewish groups (many Arab Israelis refer to themselves as Palestinians).

It also cited instances in which “Israeli law enforcement agencies used excessive force to disperse peaceful protests by Palestinians.”

Israeli police during riots and clashes between Arab and Jewish residents, in the central Israeli town of Lod, on May 12, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police rejected allegations of unfair treatment, telling AFP that officers “worked day and night during the riots that took place in Lod last May to restore peace and security for the inhabitants of the city.”

Investigations and arrests linked to the unrest were carried out “regardless of the religion or identity of the perpetrators,” a police spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, HRW, which is based in New York, accused Israel of apartheid because of discriminatory policies toward Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel firmly rejects those allegations and accuses the group of bias against the Jewish state.

HRW also has called on the International Criminal Court to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is fully capable of investigating any possible wrongdoing by its army. It says the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over what it calls the mistreatment of Palestinians.

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