Police accuse MK Tibi of abusing immunity by helping suspect escape

Officers say Joint List lawmaker blocked Border Police trying to detain man near East Jerusalem church where relatives of slain reporter were gathering; Tibi claims cops are liars

Ahmad Tibi in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem on May 12, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)
Ahmad Tibi in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem on May 12, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

A senior lawmaker from the Joint List party was accused of obstructing police and helping a suspect escape during an attempted arrest in Jerusalem.

Fuming police officials said MK Ahmed Tibi had abused his parliamentary immunity and should have been arrested himself when he got between cops and a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem they were trying to detain.

Police said they were attempting to detain a “young man” suspected of throwing an unspecified object in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina when Tibi intervened.

“During [the young man’s] detainment, a public representative showed up, obstructed the detainment, shoved, hectored and forcibly allowed the suspect to escape,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.

Police said the suspect, who was not named, was later captured following a foot-chase.

The scuffle occurred outside a church where relatives of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh were gathering Thursday ahead of her funeral, slated for Friday morning. Police were in the area to bring Abu Akleh’s brother Anton for questioning amid a probe into her death, which occurred while she was covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in Jenin in the West Bank.

In footage taken during the incident, Tibi can be seen yelling at police and pulling the suspect away from officers, allowing him to run away.

“Police said he threw an object. What object? Liars,” Tibi told Ynet news later Thursday.

“MK Tibi moved the suspect away from the border police officers because he was worried they would beat him,” Tibi’s office said. The lawmaker also pointed out that the suspect managed to escape from the police on his own before being captured a third time, Haaretz reported.

Police nonetheless expressed indignation with Tibi’s behavior, though an official statement refrained from naming him. “Obstructing police activity to keep law and order is unacceptable, especially when committed by an elected representative who is supposed to be a role model and not torpedoing police work.”

Israeli security forces arrest a Palestinian in Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem after he tried to escape as a Knesset member argued with police. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev wrote on social media that Tibi’s actions were “intolerable, especially coming from a Knesset member misusing his immunity.”

Police sources quoted by Channel 12 news said Tibi’s actions could not pass without a response. “Any citizen, other than a Knesset member, would have been arrested and brought to be questioned in cuffs if they did what MK Tibi did,” a police source was quoted telling the station.

Tibi, a veteran Knesset member and medical doctor, is among the most well-known Arab lawmakers in the country, thanks to his sarcastic made-for-social-media wit and frequent appearances on TV news programs. His high profile has also made him a target of right-wing ire.

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right foil to Tibi, petitioned Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to open a probe into the Joint List lawmaker, and others on the right also urged punitive action.

Police stand guard in front of a building in Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem on May 12, 2022, where condolences are received for slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Israel’s parliamentary immunity rules shield lawmakers from most forms of prosecution, but protection must be conferred by Knesset vote. The Knesset ethics committee can also place procedural punishments on lawmakers.

The Joint List party of Arab-led factions backed Tibi and said that police were the ones in the wrong.

“The police presence next to the church was a provocation, and they tried to beat youths and arrest youths at the church just because they were offering condolences,” the party said in a statement. “This is how you create anger and unrest.”

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