Police chief says pro-Gaza Haifa protest was not legitimate because of rioting

Amid furor over activist who suffered broken knee allegedly after arrest, Alsheich claims ‘sidewalk became battlefield,’ vows to address any wrongdoing by cops after probe

Arab-Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah, who alleges a police officer broke his knee after he was arrested, in court on May 20, 2018. (Hadashot screenshot)
Arab-Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah, who alleges a police officer broke his knee after he was arrested, in court on May 20, 2018. (Hadashot screenshot)

Police commissioner Roni Alsheich on Monday said that a Gaza solidarity protest in Haifa over the weekend that disintegrated into clashes between demonstrators and police was not legitimate because violence shown by protesters turned the “sidewalk into a battleground.”

Twenty-one people were arrested when the demonstration was dispersed Friday, and activist Jafar Farah sustained a broken knee in the aftermath of his arrest and was hospitalized. On Monday a Haifa Magistrate’s Court judge ordered all of those still held by police to be released.

“There was the most violent rioting, chairs were flying, the sidewalk became a battlefield, [with] stones thrown at police officers,” Alsheich said at a police ceremony in Beit Shemesh. “That is not a legitimate protest, even in a democratic and tolerant state.”

Commenting on Farah, who claims a police officer broke his knee while he was in police custody, Alsheich suggested that perhaps the injury was sustained during the street clashes.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

“You’ve never seen someone walk with a fracture? It could be that he was injured during the demonstration,” Alsheich said, referring to images of Farah on his feet at the time he was detained by police.

“The police need to check that.”

Arab Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah arrested by police at a Haifa demonstration against Israel’s conduct in Gaza on May 18, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Alsheich recommended that a probe ordered by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department into the incident be allowed to run its course and said that the police force would not conduct its own checks at the same time.

“Did someone overstep his authority? If that turns out to be the case then the police will know how to deal with it. At the end of the day, we must let the PID do the examination. We won’t do things in parallel so as to not disturb the examination, and if PID decides that it needs an investigation, it will be investigated.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, whose ministry is responsible for the Israel Police, said Monday at the ceremony at which Alsheich spoke that officers are often placed in difficult and stressful situations.

“The events of that last days in Haifa gave an example of the complex role of the police: The need to protect the public order and to protect public peace, along with the need to enable protest within the framework of freedom of speech, which we all believe in. Police fulfill their role under pressure, while suffering insults, and sometimes are also violently assaulted. But they must still behave with restraint and remember their duty.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem on April 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday, the Justice Ministry’s police internal investigations department opened a preliminary investigation into Farah’s injury and allegations of police brutality.

Later that evening Erdan gave his backing to a “swift investigation,” as public outcry over the incident mounted.

The protesters were arrested on Friday evening as police dispersed a demonstration against the deaths of Palestinians during clashes on the Gaza border.

Police had said that all of Friday’s arrests were “carried out lawfully and in accordance with procedures,” but did not offer an explanation for Farah’s injury.

They said the protests had included stone throwing at officers, property damage, attempts to block roads and the disturbing of public order.

Farah said when he arrived at the local police station after being arrested, he saw his son sitting there covered in blood and asked why he was being treated in such a manner. Farah said that in response an officer kicked him in the knee, breaking it. He was hospitalized at the Bnei Zion Medical Center.

Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the ruling Hamas terror group in Gaza and used as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.

On Saturday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during Monday’s border clashes had risen to 64, with more than 2,700 wounded in the violence. Hamas has admitted that 50 of the dead were members of the terror group. Three others were Islamic Jihad members.

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