Arab Public Holds General Strike after Kafr Qassem Shooting Death

The Arab public in Israel held a general strike on Tuesday, June 6, following a violent confrontation in the city of Kafr Qassem during the night between Monday and Tuesday, in which one local resident, Muhammad Mahmoud Salim Taha, 21, was killed and several police officers were injured.

Muhammad Mahmoud Salim Taha, 21, who was killed during the confrontation in Kafr Qassem on the night between Monday and Tuesday

Muhammad Mahmoud Salim Taha, 21, who was killed during the confrontation in Kafr Qassem on the night between Monday and Tuesday (Photo: Al Ittihad)

Meeting in an emergency session early Tuesday, members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, led by former Hadash MK Muhammad Barakeh, blamed both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan for Taha’s death and for failing to address the burning issue of organized crime in Arab cities and towns in Israel. Following the committee’s convening, demonstrations were held at major intersections throughout the country on Tuesday afternoon, from 5:00 pm, and it was also decided to hold a large demonstration in Kafr Qassem this coming Saturday, June 10.

The confrontation began in Kafr Qassem shortly after 11:30 pm on Monday night, June 5, after police stopped a local resident and asked for identification. Police claim that the man resisted arrest and attacked officers, and that the “detainee was soon joined by a mob of bystanders who dragged the man away from police.”  Police managed to retrieve the man, but the scene soon deteriorated into a barrage of stone throwing. According to the police, an initial investigation suggests that a local security guard at the police station feared for his life and consequently opened fire on protesters resulting in the death of Taha.

The incident occurred just hours after Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) challenged Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on the Knesset floor to explain why the security establishment has failed to reign in the use of guns and growing street crime in the Arab-Palestinian national minority in Israel. Khenin said Arab municipal and national officials have repeatedly asked that guns in the Arab community be confiscated and have pleaded for more frequent effective policing — two requests that thus far have gone unanswered.

In recent months, criminals have killed eight people in Kafr Qassem, including a double murder committed last week. The residents of Kafr Qassem shut down the city’s education system this Monday to protest police inaction towards local violence. “Yesterday I spoke on the Knesset floor about the out-of-control gun situation in Arab towns […] only a sharp change in police policies vis-à-vis Arab citizens can restore [the community’s] trust and prevent a repeat of the serious, unfortunate riots we saw last night in Kafr Qassem,” Khenin said Tuesday.

Joint List chairperson, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), said that “the police are adding insult to injury, by not only abandoning our security, the streets of our cities, and by refusing to investigate our murder cases, but then by attacking and harming civilians.” Odeh added: “The police continue to treat the Arab population as enemies to be protected from, not as citizens to be defended. […] The least the police can do now is to allow residents to protest as they please without the police themselves endangering them and their safety.”