Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan slammed as a “police failure” the funeral of an Israeli Arab terrorist after hundreds took part in his funeral and hailed the deceased as a “martyr.”
Hundreds of Umm al-Fahm residents attended the funeral of Ahmed Muhammad Mahameed in the northern city early Tuesday morning, with participants chanting praise for him.
Mahameed, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, attempted to stab a policeman in the Old City of Jerusalem, but was shot dead during the attack.
“Unfortunately, yesterday saw what was apparently a failure by the Israel Police. I expect an internal investigation of the decision-making process,” Erdan, whose ministry oversees the police, said in an interview with Hadashot television news.
“In my view, the police should not have handed over the body until it could verify its conditions were met,” Erdan said.
Those conditions included the family’s promise to hold a private, low-key funeral.
“If the body was handed over, and this [sort of funeral] is what resulted, then in the final analysis the police failed,” Erdan said.
Erdan added that “the disgrace falls first of all on the residents of Umm al-Fahm, who time and again hold mass funerals that praise vile terrorists.”
Erdan’s comments came after the Israel Police promised it would launch an investigation into the funeral for Mahameed, who was shot dead last week as he tried to stab an officer in the Old City of Jerusalem.
In a statement, police said they will seek the forfeiture of a NIS 50,000 bond the family of Mahameed had provided as a guarantee that the funeral, held early Tuesday morning in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, would stay within guidelines.
His body was returned to his family overnight Monday after an agreement was reached on the number of people who would take part in the funeral, as well as the route and time of the ceremony.
But the family apparently did not abide by the agreement. Fireworks were lit in the town to mark the return of the body, and hundreds attended the funeral. During the procession participants chanted, “In spirit and blood we will redeem you martyr.”
Reacting to footage of the funeral, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted in support of a controversial plan to transfer some Arab municipalities to a future Palestinian state as part of land swaps in exchange for settlements.
“Are you are still asking yourselves why Umm al-Fahm needs to be in Palestine and not Israel?” Liberman tweeted. “The scenes yesterday of many hundreds of people participating in the funeral of the terrorist from their city with Palestinian flags, and chants that ‘with spirit and blood we will redeem you martyr,’ will finally answer the question. The plan that I published many years ago for an exchange of territory and populations is more relevant than ever.”
According to police, the funeral was supposed to be limited to just 150 family members, but “many hundreds were seen participating, contrary to the order which defined the time of the funeral, the route, the number of participants.”
“Due to the failure to fulfill the conditions [of the body’s release], police will open an investigation…and will act to obtain the forfeiture of the monetary deposit,” the statement said.
Israeli officials argue that funerals for deceased attackers — who were killed as they stabbed, shot, or rammed Israelis — often turn into mass rallies that express support for and urge new bouts of Palestinian terrorism. Bodies of deceased assailants are therefore held until relatives agree to hold subdued burials that don’t include calls for further attacks.
Police noted in their statement that, contrary to earlier media reports “which were apparently given to media by interested parties,” the conditions for the funeral were negotiated between police and the family and not as a result of a High Court of Justice order, “and certainly not in negotiations with any organization.”
Media had reported that The Adalah Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel had played a key role in the negotiations for the release of Mahameed’s body.
Police said Friday that Mahameed emerged from the direction of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem and approached a group of policemen, pulling out a knife and attempting to stab one of them.
The officers scuffled with the assailant and one of them shot him, killing him.
Mahameed’s family said that he struggled with mental health issues, and had not carried out the attack for nationalistic motives. He did not have a history of involvement in terror groups or activities.
The family condemned the officer who fired the fatal shot for “having a light trigger finger.”
The Umm al-Fahm Municipality released a statement Saturday condemning police for what it called the “cold-blooded murder” of its resident.
Police said an initial probe of the incident had shown the police fire was entirely justified.
The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday extended by two days the detention of three men suspected of involvement in the attempted stabbing attack, overruling the Magistrate’s Court which had released them to house arrest.
The suspects, all residents of Umm al-Fahm, were arrested in the hours after the attack after police identified them walking through the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City alongside Mahameed.