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Tempers Flare At Or Commission Hearings

Wednesday, August 29, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Tempers Flare At Or Commission Hearings
The Or Commission hearings into the violent riots last October that left 13 Israeli Arabs dead halted its proceedings on Thursday after a police officer was assaulted while on the witness stand.

After persistent demands by Israeli Arab leaders, the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved a state commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 13 Israeli Arabs during the riots at Rosh Hashana. Israeli police targeted by the inquiry have been concerned with possible revenge attacks by family members of the deceased, and some police have been allowed to testify before the three-man panel from behind a screen.

At the commission's first hearing on February 19, the family of one Arab victim attacked a border policeman, the first officer to testify, forcing a two-hour delay in the proceedings. The hearings have been tense ever since, as emotional Arab families attending the hearings have often shouted angrily at police, and several women have even fainted.

Meanwhile, the Israeli police commander of the Northern district, Alik Ron, who is a prime target of the inquiry, recently called the proceedings a "slap in the face" to loyal police personnel. In response, Israeli Arab MKs renewed calls for his dismissal.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when the father of one of two men shot dead in Sakhnin assaulted and injured Chief Superintendent Guy Reif during his testimony about aiming live fire at the ground to defend himself in a "near lynching" incident. The victim's father suddenly sprang up and punched Reif, bloodying and breaking his nose. The outburst ignited a full-scale brawl, with many of the Arab spectators throwing objects at the officer, calling him a "murderer."

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or, the chairman of the commission, decided to suspend further hearings in their current format. Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit instructed the director of the courts, Judge Dan Arbel, to hold a comprehensive inquiry into the incident. Several of the brawlers were arrested, but through the intervention of MK Ahmed Tibi, all were released and sent home, including the assailant.

Several officers have described using live fire aimed at the feet of angry demonstrators who were endangering their lives. Commander Ron gave orders to fire on demonstrators threatening police after some officers were injured by rocks flung from a slingshot. A female police officer told the Or Commission that the civilian deaths were the result of "inexperienced" policemen, while others have testified that the police were badly outnumbered and unprepared for the massive riots.

One intelligence officer said all police efforts to cooperate with city leaders were fruitless in Umm al-Fahm, the scene of some of the worst rioting. He said that many of the town leaders, including Mayor Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, did not try to halt the rioting and some even encouraged it. On the second day of hearings, Umm el-Fahm Deputy Mayor Suleiman Agbariya countered that the police had "clear orders to come and kill."

Israel's first Arab cabinet minister, the Labor Party's Salah Tarif, said he regards the Or Commission as a "key tool" for the healing of the wound in the relationship between Jews and Arabs.

But Likud MK Gideon Ezra attended the hearings and blasted the outgoing government for agreeing to appoint a judicial commission in the first place. "We must defend our policemen and soldiers," he said, charging that Labor had agreed to the commission to win Arab votes. "We cannot desert the police. We didn't expect the Arabs to act this way and we weren't ready. There were few policemen available and the Arabs wanted to kill them. The Israeli people must understand this."

Ezra's comments were in line with those of Cmdr. Ron's, who said that it wasn't the police who erred, but rather "the state of Israel was responsible for an intelligence failure." At a gathering of 300 Galilee area policemen last week, Ron charged the police force "was twice slapped in the face, first by the emissaries sent by malice-mongers to clash with us; and the second slap was from the government, when it decided to appoint the commission of inquiry."

The potential threat posed by Arab citizens was attested to by United Arab List MK Abdul-Malik Dahamshe in October, when he said, "20 to 25 percent of the Israeli Arabs want to destroy the State of Israel and kill the Jews, but most of the Israeli Arabs want to live together with the Jews in peace and quiet with equal rights."

Arab leaders from Sakhnin warned Thursday that the main rally there marking Land Day next Friday is liable to erupt in violence, given the degree to which tempers flared at Wednesday's session of the Commission.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Tempers Flare At Or Commission Hearings