Mayor of Arab town of Umm al-Fahm confronts residents for rioting over Temple Mount

Samir Subhi Mahamed clears protesters from city street, says he supports ‘legitimate protest, but not violence’

Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahamed, Mayor of the Israeli Arab town Umm al-Fahm, in his office, on February 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahamed, Mayor of the Israeli Arab town Umm al-Fahm, in his office, on February 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The mayor of the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm confronted city residents who were protesting against Israel over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Friday.

Mayor Samir Subhi Mahamed told off the young, masked men who were protesting Israeli actions at the Jerusalem holy site and trying to block traffic from entering Umm al-Fahm.

The protesters chanted “Israel is a terror state,” attempted to damage property, lit tires on fire and shot off fireworks, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The demonstration took place at the end of a procession following Ramadan prayers.

A large police force was in the area in case of an escalation. Friday reports said dozens were seen chanting in Umm al-Fahm in support of the Hamas terror group and protesters who confronted police on the Temple Mount earlier that day.

Video from the scene showed Mahamed shouting and gesturing at men on a city street.

Mahamed told Haaretz that he was trying to calm a tense situation.

“I’m in favor of legitimate protest, but not violence,” Mahamed told Haaretz.

“There’s no place for a protest that disturbs public order. That doesn’t serve anyone, and definitely not the message we’re trying to send,” he said.

He said it was important to protest Israeli actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “but in a legitimate way.”

The protesters were from a group called Al-Hirak Al-Shababi (“The Youth Movement”) that is not affiliated with any political party, and is known for taking extremist positions.

Police later said four minors were arrested over rioting in the city. “The riots included attempts to block the entrance to the city, firing fireworks, throwing stones at the [police] forces and burning tires in the middle of the road,” police said in a statement.

Police officers are seen during a riot at the entrance of the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, early April 23, 2022. (Israel Police)

Israeli police have repeatedly clashed with Palestinians on the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem in recent weeks, inflaming tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

The site is also paramount to Arab Israelis, and Friday reports said police were gearing up for possible unrest in Arab Israeli communities.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered reserve Border Police officers to be put on alert for immediate call-up over concerns the violence in Jerusalem could spread to cities like Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth.

The massive Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical temples, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the mount, is the third-holiest shrine in Islam.

Ramadan has brought tens of thousands of Palestinian worshipers to the site and is typically a period of high tension. This year, Ramadan coincided with the week-long Jewish Passover holiday, further driving up friction in the capital.

Palestinian clash with Israeli police at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 22, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police say they are acting against rioters on the Temple Mount who attack them with stones and fireworks, and have thrown stones at the Western Wall complex, which is below the compound.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of seeking to violate the delicate status quo on the site, which allows Jews to visit, but not pray there. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other authorities have repeatedly stressed their commitment to the status quo.

The recent clashes at the Temple Mount have drawn threats from Gaza terror groups, sparked international concern and strained ties with Israel’s Arab allies.

Clashes at the Temple Mount can snowball into wider violence; police actions to quell riots there last year were among the triggers of an 11-day war in Gaza last May.

Earlier this month, police arrested seven people in Umm al-Fahm for suspected rioting during a protest over the Temple Mount.

Last month, Mahamed briefly resigned as mayor in a surprise announcement on live television, after coming under fire for posting a condolence message mourning two Islamic State-inspired terrorists who killed two Border Police officers in a shooting attack in Hadera earlier that week.

Two hours later, Mahamed changed course and said he was not quitting after all and had decided to stay in his post after supporters and others pressed him not to resign.

The post mourning the terrorists, who were from Umm al-Fahm, was published on the municipality’s Facebook page under Mahamed’s name and briefly taken down. Mahamed apologized and said it had been posted by an outside contractor without his knowledge. He had condemned the terrorist murders immediately after they took place.

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