Convoy Protests Arab-Bedouin’s Death and Home Demolitions; Saturday, Feb. 4: Rally in Tel Aviv

A protest convoy of over 200 vehicles snarled traffic Monday, January 23, on the main highway leading to Jerusalem as it intentionally proceeded slowly on its way to the government compound in the capital. The vehicles, most of them driven by residents of the central city of Qalansawe and Arab-Bedouin from the Negev, created a massive traffic jam along Route 1 outside of Jerusalem, near Abu Ghosh. As a result of the slow pace of the protestors’ vehicles, heavy traffic was also felt on nearby roads, particularly Highway 3 and the toll road Highway 6. The convoy was another in a series of protest measures decided upon last week after the demolition of homes and the killing of Umm el-Hiran resident, Yacoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, 47.

A Communist Party of Israel activist holds a Young Communist League sign reading, 'Democracy isn’t built on the bodies of dead protesters,' during the demonstration against demolitions of Arab homes in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, Monday, January 23, 2017

A Communist Party of Israel activist holds a Young Communist League sign reading, ‘Democracy isn’t built on the bodies of dead protesters,’ during the demonstration against demolitions of Arab homes in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, Monday, January 23, 2017 (Photo: Al Ittihad)

Among those participating in the protest were Joint List MKs and head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Mohammad Barakeh. Head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) called on the public to join the convoy and to demand the resignation of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “The police should immediately release the body of Yacoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an,” Odeh said. “We won’t allow authorities to keep on demolishing homes and destroying the lives of families and the very possibility of coexistence in this country. Join us in the demand that every child in this country should have electricity, running water and an educational system.”

After the arrival of the convoy in Jerusalem, hundreds gathered before Israel’s parliament to protest the government’s policy on demolishing Arab homes – and demanding the release of the body of Abu al-Qiyan: “Erdan resign, we won’t tolerate you anymore,” they chanted. Organizers of Monday’s protest said: “We are protesting the fact that the state is not putting forth a solution acceptable to both sides. The result is the continuous and ongoing conflict with the Arab community in Israel, the deadly results of which we have witnessed so recently. The state must reach a solution to which our community agrees and not enforce solutions that are not acceptable to residents.”

On Monday, two rights groups called upon Justice Ministry investigators to probe allegations of police brutality after one of the leading Arab lawmakers in the Knesset, MK Odeh, was injured during protests against court-ordered home demolitions in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on January 18. In their joint statement, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel and Adalah, an Arab legal aid organization, said it had appealed to the ministry’s Police Investigations Department to open a criminal probe into how and why police allegedly shot Odeh with sponge-tipped bullets. The acts described [in the groups’ complaint] raise the suspicion of illegal use of force and illegal use of firearms. The officers’ actions violated Israeli law and constitute an infringement of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” the complaint reads. According to the groups, citing the testimony of Odeh himself, the MK was with a group of activists at the southern village on the morning of January 18, when shortly after police arrived at the site to prepare for the demolitions, they heard live fire — likely the moment in which the ramming incident took place in another part of the village.

Odeh and the activists began walking toward the sound of shots being fired, but were blocked by police officers. The officers would not budge even when Odeh’s position was explained to them, despite the fact that MKs enjoy parliamentary immunity from most police actions. Then, according to the statement, officers began hitting and cursing the activists, including Odeh. One officer sprayed pepper spray in the MK’s face from point-blank range, the statement charges, echoing claims made by Odeh in the days immediately after the incident. The sponge-tipped bullets fired by police at the activists, were shot, according to the latter, only after they had already retreated from the officers. Police also allegedly fired flash grenades, a nonlethal device that produces a blinding light, at the activists.

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court ordered police to release the body of Yacoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, the driver who was shot by police allegedly after ramming a group of police with his vehicle, killing one policeman. Authorities had held onto the body, claiming that the Umm el-Hiran resident “is a terrorist who drove his car into the policemen intentionally” and that the family refused to agree to demands designed to limit the number of participants at the funeral and keep it from turning into a mass protest.

The court said that police may not limit the number of mourners at the funeral and that the procession can set out from Umm al-Hiran to the burial site in Hura and that it may last up to two hours. Reacting to the court decision, Joint List head Odeh accused the police of lying to the court, and said he is still demanding answers as to why homes in Umm al-Hiran were demolished and why police used so much force while securing the area for the operation. “The police continue to disseminate incitement instead of taking responsibility for their terrible failures that led to the unnecessary deaths of two people on the same terrible morning,” he said in a statement.

Rally: They Destroy But We Will Build a Shared Future

On Saturday evening, February 4, a protest rally will be held in Tel Aviv (on King George Street from the corner of Allenby), sponsored by Hadash, the Communist Party of Israel, Meretz, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the Palestinian/Israeli movement Standing Together, and human rights groups against racism and the far-right government’s policy towards ‘the Arab community. The rally, which is being conducted under the theme “They Destroy But We Will Build a Shared Future,” will begin at 7pm (19:00).

Facebook page for the February 4 rally in Tel Aviv: