Some 10,000 people took part in a funeral Tuesday evening in the northern Arab town of Tamra, in violation of the government’s coronavirus restrictions.
The funeral was for 22-year-old Ahmed Hijazi, a nursing student who was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between police and suspected underworld criminals in the town the previous night.
Many in attendance were seen wearing masks, but stood in very close quarters. Outdoor gatherings are currently limited to 10 people out in the open, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Hijazi was draped in a Palestinian flag as his coffin was carried along by those in attendance.
The funeral was also a protest of sorts, with many in attendance blaming police for Hijazi’s death. It is not yet clear who fired the shots that killed Hijazi. After the funeral, hundreds blocked a nearby road, with some vandalizing infrastructure and setting fire to tires.
The mass funeral followed two funerals for Haredi rabbis in Jerusalem Sunday, which saw thousands of people congregate in defiance of the lockdown rules. Both rabbis had died of the coronavirus.
Police were heavily criticized for failing to prevent those funerals, but did not stop Tuesday night’s event either.
There have been violations of the rules in all areas of the country, but ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities have been particularly bad in keeping to the regulations, and have accordingly had some of the worst morbidity levels in the population.
Monday’s deadly incident in Tamra began when police forces identified three criminals who were suspected of firing gunshots toward a house. Cops opened fire toward them, with police saying the suspects responded with gunfire from automatic M-16 rifles.
One of the suspects was hit and killed by officers in the ensuing shootout, another was wounded and the third escaped, police said in a statement. But the bullets also hit and killed Hijazi, who came out of his house due to the noise.
האיש הצעיר שבתמונה הוא אחמד חיג'אזי, סטודנט לסיעוד בן 22 מהעיר טמרה בצפון. אתמול, בשעה 22:37 הוא ישב ולמד בביתו למבחן באוניברסיטה. תוך בדיוק שעה לאחר מכן – הוא כבר היה מת. המשטרה ירתה עליו באש חיה והרגה אותו.
— Alon-Lee Green (@AlonLeeGreen) February 2, 2021
A young doctor was injured while attempting to treat Hijazi. The Kan public broadcaster said the doctor was in moderate condition.
Police initially claimed both slain men were suspects, before correcting that and saying officials were investigating whether Hijazi was killed by the cops or by the criminals.
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said Tuesday morning that it was probing the incident and had summoned the cops involved for questioning.
Hijazi’s death sparked outrage in the city, with local authorities announcing a one-day strike Tuesday as well as three days of mourning. Several protests were held in the town throughout Tuesday.
Northern District Police Chief Shimon Lavi said Tuesday the force “shares in the grief of the Hijazi family. We cannot be certain where the gunfire [that hit Hijazi] came from — whether from the policemen or the criminals.
“Exchanges of fire…are not a simple matter. It’s not theoretical science of a computer game. It’s live and in the dark and in mortal danger. The goal is to provide security to the residents of Tamra.”
The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, which works to advance shared society initiatives in Israel, responded to the “tragic event,” calling for a thorough investigation.
“It’s unacceptable for the fight against crime to come at the cost of killing civilians,” the organization said.
“Incidents of this kind fatally damage whatever remains of the Arab public’s trust in the police, and the hasty announcement by the police immediately after the incident, in which all four victims were named as suspects, increases the suspicion Arab citizens have toward the police,” the statement read. “Police are expected to check the details before issuing misleading information, and this is a key element in the trust necessary for law enforcement.”
Ending the spread of violence and organized crime is a major priority for Arab Israelis. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.