Police chief to Arab Israelis: ‘You want to support Gaza, I’ll put you on a bus there’

Kobi Shabtai says there will be ‘zero tolerance’ for pro-Hamas demonstrations, as police break up unauthorized rally in Haifa in support of Gaza

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attends a Rosh Hashanah ceremony at police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 13, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attends a Rosh Hashanah ceremony at police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 13, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai said the force would have “zero tolerance” for pro-Hamas demonstrations within Israel, suggesting that those expressing solidarity with Gaza Strip should go to there instead.

“Whoever wants to be a citizen of Israel, ahalan wasahlan,” Shabtai said in a video posted on Tuesday to the Israel Police’s Arabic TikTok channel, using common Arabic slang meaning “welcome.”

“Anyone who wants to identify with Gaza is welcome — I’ll put them on buses that will send them there, I’ll help them get there,” Shabtai added.

The comments were only widely reported in Israel on Wednesday, shortly after police broke up a rally in Haifa in support of Gaza, arresting six people.

In the short video, Shabtai said there would be “zero tolerance for any instance of incitement… there will be no authorization for protests.” He said that Israel is “in a state of war… we’re not in a situation where we will allow all sorts of people to come and test us.”

Israel Police spokesman Eli Levy told Army Radio on Wednesday that since the start of the war on October 7, 63 people in Israel have been arrested on suspicion of supporting or inciting terror.

Palestinians protest against Israel in the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 18, 2023. (Flash90)

Police officials told the Ynet news site on Wednesday that they are scouring social media to find Arab Israelis who are expressing support for Hamas and its murderous onslaught against Israel on October 7, which killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

“After Operation Guardian of the Walls [the 2021 war with Gaza, which saw many Arab-Jewish clashes in mixed towns], we learned our lesson, and established a ‘war room'” to counter such incitement, said Assistant Commissioner Dror Asraf. Today, the operation “identifies online incitement or planning or any operational information that we identify on all the platforms, which has a goal of disrupting public order and harming others.”

On Wednesday evening, police dispersed an unauthorized rally in Haifa in support of Gaza for disturbing public order.

Earlier in the day, police had said they would not be allowing any pro-Gaza demonstrations that were being planned on social media, after right-wing groups said they would intervene to halt them.

During the unauthorized rally, six protesters were reportedly arrested, including three women, and one person was wounded, according to the Arab48 news website. The police also reportedly dispersed a protest in the Arab Israeli city of Taybeh.

On Friday, police said they arrested a 14-year-old in Kafr Qassem for sharing a video posted by Hamas on social media praising the terror group’s slaughter of Israelis.

The teen’s mother, who accompanied him to a police station, was also arrested after she “violently attacked a policewoman while yelling racist epithets at her,” police said.

Gianluca Pacchiani contributed to this report.

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