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Hundreds denounce deadly Umm al-Hiran raid in Israel, occupied Palestinian territory

Jan. 19, 2017 11:36 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 20, 2017 11:56 A.M.)
Raid in Umm al-Hiran on Jan. 18, 2017.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters took to the streets in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory on Wednesday to protest an evacuation raid in a Bedouin community in the Negev which turned deadly earlier in the day, with one Palestinian citizen of Israel and an Israeli police officer dying in disputed circumstances.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Umm al-Hiran, where Bedouin resident Yaqoub Moussa Abu al-Qian, 47, was shot dead by Israeli police, who claimed that the math teacher was carrying out a vehicular attack which killed police officer Erez Levi, 34.

However, a number of witnesses and Palestinian officials with Israeli citizenship have disputed Israeli security forces’ version of events, saying that police officers opened fire on Abu al-Qian despite him not representing a threat, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and fatally hit Levi.

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, was injured in the head and back during the raid, although witnesses and police disputed how he had been injured and by whom.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, a division of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, declared three days of mourning in Palestinian-majority towns and villages in Israel following the deadly raid.

The committee also called for Palestinian citizens of Israel to launch a general strike on Thursday, and for teachers to discuss the recent events in Umm al-Hiran with students.

Demonstrations took place in other towns in Israel with a majority Palestinian population, such as Yaffa, Qalansawe, Shifa Amr, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Sakhnin, and Umm al-Fahm, with protesters waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans against what they denounced as “racist” Israeli policies.

Israeli human rights group Gush Shalom reported that demonstrations also took place in the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Acre, which are all home to significant Palestinian populations, as well as in a number of universities.

In a rally in Tel Aviv, Knesset member and Palestinian citizen of Israel Issawi Freij condemned the increase in home demolitions and police violence targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, Gush Shalom said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ramping up such policies in an attempt to distract the Israeli public from an ongoing corruption investigation into himself, Freij claimed.

“The prime minister wants to mark out an enemy on whom his voters can vent their anger,” Freij told hundreds of demonstrators. “This enemy which the PM has targeted and marked out is me, an Arab citizen of the state of Israel and a member of Israel’s parliament, along with all my Arab fellow citizens, a full 20 percent of Israel’s citizen body. We are to be the scapegoats!”

Gush Shalom reported that demonstrators in Tel Aviv chanted slogans such as “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” and “Netanyahu is dangerous, both corrupt and racist.”

MK Aida Touma-Sleiman was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying that a larger protest was being planned in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, in the besieged Gaza Strip, the Hamas movement organized a march in Jabaliya refugee camp to condemn the forced evacuation of Umm al-Hiran.

Hamas official Muhammad Abu Askar said that the movement stood in solidarity with all Palestinian people, including Umm al-Hiran’s residents, and did so in spite of all the issues currently facing the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians also came out in support of Umm al-Hiran and to denounce the killing of Abu al-Qian in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, Quds news agency reported.

Meanwhile, MKs Ahmad Tibi and Usama Saadi of the Joint List introduced a new bill on Thursday to the Knesset proposing a ten-year freeze on demolitions of homes built by Palestinians in Israel without government-issued permits in order to develop a comprehensive zoning and development plan.

“It’s not an accident that there are tens of thousands of homes with demolition orders against them” in Palestinian communities in Israel, Tibi told Israel Radio. “It’s not in their genes. There are no development plans, no zoning plans, no expansion.”

Rights groups have long claimed that demolitions in Bedouin villages unrecognized by Israel were a central policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish-Israeli communities.

Earlier this month, Israeli forces also demolished 11 homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel in the city of Qalansawe in central Israel, sparking clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, with Amnesty International Israel condemning possible human rights violations and accusing Israeli forces of acting on “political motives.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement on Wednesday mourning the death of the Israeli policeman, calling the incident a deliberate “ramming attack” and part of a “murderous phenomenon,” as Israeli police has alleged that Abu al-Qian supported the so-called Islamic State.

The prime minister brushed aside the possibility of freezing demolitions in Palestinian communities in Israel.

“The state of Israel is, above all, a nation of law in which there will be equal enforcement. Not only will this incident not deter us, it will strengthen us. It will strengthen our determination to enforce the law everywhere,” he said.

In a thinly veiled allusion to Joint List MKs, Netanyahu went on to urge “everyone, especially members of the Knesset, to be responsible, to stop fanning emotions and inciting toward violence.”

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also accused Joint List MKs of incitement on Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Israel Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also accused Joint List leader Odeh of traveling to Umm al-Hiran to "incite violence" and warned that there might be "criminal implications for him.”
However, rights groups such as the Negev Coexistence and Civil Equality Forum and the Coalition of Women for Peace, which helped organize the protests in Israel on Wednesday, placed responsibility for the deadly violence squarely on the Israeli government.

"The direct responsibility for today’s dangerous escalation and bloodshed at the village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev rests upon those who took the decision to destroy a Bedouin village which had existed for decades, completely raze and wipe it off the face of the earth, to expel the residents and establish a Jewish ‘community’ in its place,” Gush Shalom quoted the groups as saying.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East division of NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the events at Umm al-Hiran followed “a pattern of excessive force used by the Israeli police.”

“As in the West Bank, Israel discriminates against Bedouins and Palestinians more generally inside its borders in its planning policies, which seek to maximize control of land for for Jewish communities. Israel should investigate the killings, hold those responsible to account, and abandon the discriminatory plan to raze Umm al-Hiran.”
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