Israel Police to study how France riots unfolded, pointing to worries of local unrest

Police commissioner orders force to examine what caused ‘extreme reaction’ by French demonstrators, amid fears of further communal violence in Israel

A French anti riot police officer walk past a burning truck in Nantes, western France on early July 1, 2023, four days after a 17-year-old man was killed by police in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris (Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)
A French anti riot police officer walk past a burning truck in Nantes, western France on early July 1, 2023, four days after a 17-year-old man was killed by police in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris (Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

The Israel Police will study the fiery rioting that has swept France in recent days to learn how it developed, a police spokesperson said Sunday, signaling fears that the Jewish state could experience similar unrest.

France has seen five nights of rioting by youths enraged at the police killing last week of a Muslim teen, setting fire to or vandalizing homes, shops and cars and clashing with police. More than 3,000 people have been detained overall and hundreds of officers have been injured.

During a meeting Sunday morning, police chief Kobi Shabtai ordered the heads of the operational, intelligence and foreign relations divisions “to study what led to the protests and the extreme reaction of the French protesters, what the police’s orders were, how they acted before the event that led to the protest, and what during the event led to violent riots across France,” the police statement said.

The 17-year-old, identified only as Nahel M., was killed during a traffic stop Tuesday, in a case freighted with charges of systemic discrimination against Arabs.

Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.

The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination and limited job prospects in neighborhoods around France where many trace their roots to former French colonies.

In Israel, the police decision to study the unrest in France appeared to stem from worries that the country could again descend into the kind of intercommunity rioting that rocked the country in May 2021.

Police officers clash with Arab Israeli demonstrators during a protest over tension in Jerusalem, in Ramle in central Israel, on May 10, 2021.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police have already been criticized for their handling of that violence. A report by the state ombudsman last year found that systemic failures hampered the police’s response to the severe riots, from intelligence gathering and coordination to operational preparedness.

Three people were killed and hundreds more hurt in days of violent unrest in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations as Israel saw some of the worst inter-communal violence since the state’s founding, with long-simmering nationalist tensions between Jews and Arabs exploding in a barrage of firebombs, shootings and brawls. The riots occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza.

The report found that the police failed in collecting intelligence on the possibility of nationalistically motivated mass disturbances. It also pointed to failures in intelligence-sharing between the Shin Bet and the police; incorrect allocations of manpower due to faulty intelligence leading to serious delays in force deployment; and a lack of adequate equipment for riot police.

Fears of further violence in Israel between police and Arab Israelis have been fueled by the promotion of far-right hardliner Itamar Ben Gvir to national security minister, with responsibility over the police.

Police have also been challenged by the resumption of mass protests against the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. In a number of instances, arrests of protesters have led to mass demonstrations outside police stations.

Police deploy a water cannon on people occupying the Ayalon Highway to protest government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Additionally, some officials in the Druze community have threatened major unrest over the implementation of a controversial project to place huge wind turbines in Druze-owned farmland in the Golan Heights, with thousands demonstrating and rioting last month. The project has been temporarily put on hold.

AP contributed to this report.

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