Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tel Aviv and other locations across Israel on Wednesday to protest the government-ordered demolition of several Bedouin homes and what they saw as excessive police force leading to the deadly car-ramming incident.
On Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and Qalansawe hundreds of protesters gathered to demonstrate against “the bloodshed and the destruction of homes in the Negev.”
The protests were peaceful by all accounts, but came after a day of intense clashes and spiking tensions over home demolitions and an alleged car-ramming, in which a resident of Umm al-Hiran ran his car into policeman Erez Levi, killing him.
The demolitions of illegal homes in a Bedouin village were disrupted when a car driven by Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an, a local schoolteacher, slammed into police.
Abu al-Qia’an, was killed by police fire, with a video appearing to show officers firing at him before his car accelerated into Levi.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, police chief Roni Alsheich and other senior officials insisted that the incident was a terror attack. “He was killed in a vehicular terror attack,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
And the deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, said the incident was “a deliberate attack. This is clear. This is a fact. There is no other explanation, and anyone who tries to offer an alternative explanation wasn’t here at the time and doesn’t understand.” Amar said there were two lines of officers either side of the road, and “no possible means to claim in this situation that he didn’t see them… He hit them. He killed.”
But local residents said al-Qiyan, 47, a father of 12, was trying to leave town and only lost control of his vehicle after police shot at him. His brother, Ahmad al-Qiyan, said he was “murdered in cold blood,” and Amnesty International called for a probe into the reports of excessive force by police.
“The police are light on the trigger when it comes to Arab citizens,” the Arab advocacy group Adalah said in a statement that accused the police of a “culture of lying.”
At least 200 people gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, while more than 300 protested in downtown Tel Aviv.
Protesters carried signs demanding an inquiry into the Abu al-Qua’an’s death an end to home demolitions and an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
— מיכל צ׳ין (@michaltchinn) January 18, 2017
An Arab advocacy group called for a nationwide general strike in the Arab sector on Thursday.
Arab businesses and municipalities will close across the country, but children will go to school for three hours to learn about the demolitions, Joint (Arab) List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said.
— חדשות 10 (@news10) January 18, 2017
She said Arab Israelis were planning a larger protest in Jerusalem next week, with large convoys from Arab cities and towns from across Israel convening in front of the Knesset Monday morning.
There has been a string of demolitions of Arab homes in northern and central Israel, most recently in the town of Qalansawe in central Israel.
After 11 illegal structures were demolished last week, the Joint List branded the demolitions “an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Qalansawe and the Arab public.”