10,000 Attend Wadi Ara Protest in Wake of Recent House Demolitions

Ten thousand people, Arabs and Jews, demonstrated in Wadi Ara in northern Israel Saturday afternoon, January 21, to protest two rounds of home demolitions in two Arab communities in the last two weeks, and the shooting to death by police of a Bedouin man whose car subsequently hit and killed an officer during a protest in Umm Al-Hiran on Wednesday, January 18. Seven protesters suffered minor injuries yesterday in the Wadi Ara demonstration when police used stun grenades and stink spray, to disperse hundreds of protesters blocking a highway intersection near Arara. A photographer, George Dabass, and a Magen David Adom paramedic were injured by sponge bullets fired by the police.

Demonstrators in Arara on Saturday, January 21. The sign to the left reads: “House demolitions and the killing of Arab civilians are crimes against humanity.” The sign in the center reads: “Bibi = Daesh; al-Kaeean = Humanity.”

Demonstrators in Arara on Saturday, January 21. The sign to the left reads: “House demolitions and the killing of Arab civilians are crimes against humanity.” The sign in the center reads: “Bibi = Daesh; al-Kaeean = Humanity.” (Photo: Al Ittihad)

Saturday’s protest was one of the measures decided on by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in a meeting on Thursday, January 19. The committee also decided to rebuild all 15 structures that had been demolished in Umm Al-Hiran the day before and to organize a mass convoy of vehicles today, Monday, January 23, from Qalansewa to government offices in Jerusalem. Additional protests also took place over the weekend in other cities and towns throughout the country.

Hadash MK Aymen Odeh (Join List), who participated in on the protest in Wadi Ara, and had been wounded by police in Umm Al-Hiran, stated, “Ten thousand people arrived here today for one meaningful purpose: to open an investigation into [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan, and the police for their decision to stop negotiations with the people of Umm al-Hiran and for all the events that occurred during the evacuation… The police are responsible for the blood that was shed on Wednesday in Umm al-Hiran, and they must return Yacoub Abu al- Kaeean’s body [to his family for burial]. Minister Gilad Erdan, who didn’t miss a chance to stand before the microphones on Wednesday and lie, purposely inciting and igniting the flames, should resign immediately.”

The police maintain that Abu al-Kaeean deliberately rammed his car into the group of police officers. But eyewitnesses contend that he lost control of his car and drove into the police only after he had been shot by another contingent of officers. A video shot from a police helicopter and released by the police support the eyewitness accounts. Israel Channel 10 News reported on Friday, January 20, that initial results from the autopsy of the Yakub Abu al-Kaeean found that he was shot in the chest and the right knee, before his car accelerated into a group of police officers. Police Sgt. Maj. Erez Levi died after being struck by the car. The bullet that hit Abu al-Kaeean in the chest struck a major artery, causing him to die of a loss of blood within 20 to 30 minutes after being shot. According to the report, the coroners determined that, with prompt medical attention, Abu al-Kaeean could have survived his injuries.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that the initial gunfire was warning shots fired by officers in an attempt to have Abu al-Kaeean stop his vehicle. However, residents of Umm al-Hiran, located near Beersheba, and Beduin rights activists who witnessed the event have refuted the police reports, telling The Jerusalem Post that police fired at Abu al- Kaeean before the car accelerated. The residents contend that Abu al- Kaeean lost control of his vehicle due to police gunfire. Prime Netanyahu, Israel Police Commissioner, Inspector General Roni Alsheich, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have all said that Abu al-Kaeean was carrying out a “ramming attack.”

Ahmad Abu al-Kaeean, Yacoub’s brother, said in response to the autopsy findings: “They killed him not once, but three times: first when they shot him, second when they left him in the car where he bled to death, and third when they claimed he deliberately drove the car [into the police officers]. The minister of police did a very grave thing when he said my brother belongs to Islamic State. Yacoub was a teacher for 25 years. It’s patently false and a racist policy designed to attack an entire community. The governmental body [of officers] that is supposed to protect people are the ones who are shooting at us. My brother never was in any such organization. Everything they have said about him is stupid.”

Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) called for a commission of inquiry into the events at Umm al-Hiran and blasted police for a “culture of lies and cover-ups. It seems that the police are still tainted by the same culture of lies and cover-ups that the Or Commission spoke of in the events of October 2000… If the police fired without justification at Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean, they themselves caused the death of their fellow policeman – then they tried to cover-up this horrible screw-up in one of the cruelest ways: They sold the public the lie that Abu al-Kaeean was a terrorist.”