An online crowdfunding drive has raised nearly NIS 60,000 ($16,000) to support the higher education of Maysam Abu Alqian, an Arab Israeli man who was beaten by police during a violent arrest in Tel Aviv Sunday.
Alqian, 19, worked up to 20 hours a day at a Tel Aviv Burger King as well as the Yuda Supermarket to save money for his university tuition. Pictures and video footage of plainclothes officers beating Alqian outside Yuda immediately went viral online, sparking outrage and claims of police brutality.
The Israeli human rights group Negev Coexistence Forum launched the fundraising drive on Headstart.co.il Monday with the initial goal of NIS 40,000 ($10,000), but as of early Thursday afternoon, donations pledged on the site was just shy of NIS 70,000.
“I want to thank all of the donors with all of my heart,” Alqian said on the campaign page. “Now I understand what help really is.”
Hailing from the Bedouin Negev town of Hura, Alqian hopes to start a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the fall.
“I hope that what happened to me will bring about a change in the law so that police will not be able to assault civilians,” he said. “I want to enroll right now, but I need to wait until I get out of custody.”
תיעוד : קטטה במרכז ת"א בין עובד ערבי לשוטרי מג"ב
המשטרה : השוטרים הם אלה שהותקפו
עדי ראייה מספרים דברים שונים pic.twitter.com/06sfDV02Lk
— לירן כוג'הינוף (@lirankog) May 22, 2016
Alqian’s father, Ahmed, also expressed gratitude to the hundreds of donors who supporting his son.
“He works so hard, that sometimes he doesn’t even have time to shave, so I am grateful to everyone who has given a shekel toward his education,” he said. “We live in coexistence, and want to continue living in coexistence. I just hope that the police will learn to put the right people in the right place.”
After the incident, Alqian said he would no longer work in Tel Aviv in order to save up for tuition.
One of the drive organizers, Michal Rotem, said the Forum members were pleasantly surprised by outpouring of support for Alqian.
“It really took us all by surprise. We were hesitant at first, but then the numbers just kept going up,” she told the Ynet news website on Tuesday.
“After we met Maysam we learned just how hard he’s worked to save money for his degree. There were many others who were looking for a way to support him, so we came up with the idea of supporting his education,” Rotem said.
Any funds raised over the initial goal will go to cover his legal fees stemming from his arrest.
The fundraising drive comes as the police continued to investigate the incident. Police maintain that Alqian resisted arrest and attacked officers when they asked him for identification.
However, eyewitnesses charged that officers beat Alqian after he declined to show his ID and asked the plainclothes officers who they were.
In a Monday interview with Army Radio, Alqian also challenged the police’s version of events.
“I returned from a delivery — I help with deliveries for the supermarket — and a man asked me for my ID,” he said.
“I said I won’t give him my ID unless he shows me his police ID. He said, ‘I’m a cop and I have an ID.’ He didn’t tell me why he stopped me, why he wants to see [the ID]. I said, ‘You have to bring me someone in uniform.’”
The officer — police later said he was an off-duty border guard — “brought someone else from his team. It wasn’t long before they started hitting me,” Alqian added.
More police came to the scene. “There were a lot of them, I didn’t count. No one showed their ID. They just started beating me. I asked them to stop, tried to defend myself, to block their blows so they wouldn’t land on my face,” he said.
Under Israeli law, plainclothes officers are required to present their full name and rank and present an ID when they carry out police activities.
Alqian was eventually taken away in a police cruiser, but had to be taken to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv to be treated for wounds to his face, neck and back. He was released to house arrest by the Tel Aviv District Court late Sunday.
In the wake of the incident, dozens of eyewitnesses took to social media to describe what they said was a vicious, unprovoked attack on Alqian by police.
The manager of Yuda Supermarket, Kobi Cohen, said he attempted to intervene with the officers, telling Ynet news that they had hit Alqian “mercilessly until he was incapacitated.”
“Everyone is shocked by what happened. And there’s only one reason for it — the guy was an Arab,” Cohen said.
The incident is the latest disgrace to have engulfed the police, which has been beset in recent years by a series of sex scandals and brutality claims, as well as claims of incompetence and excessive use of force.
Last year, a video clip showing Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Damas Pakada being beaten by two police officers in the city of Holon was met with public outrage and several days of protests.
In December, police announced its officers would be equipped with body-worn cameras in a bid to increase transparency and improve the public’s trust in law enforcement.