Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak apologized on Tuesday, July 23, for the killing of 12 Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel by security forces in October 2000, during a wave of protests that began following a controversial visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Compound (Temple Mount). Twelve Arab-Palestinian citizens and a Palestinian resident of Gaza were killed by Israeli forces in three days of clashes (October 1-3, 2000) in Arab communities in the north of the country in the immediate wake of Sharon’s provocative visit.
“I take responsibility for what happened during my tenure as prime minister, including the October events,” Barak told Israel Public Radio. “There is no place for protesters to be killed by security and police forces of the State of Israel, their state. I express my regret and apology to the families of those killed and to the Arab community.”
Following the incidents, commemorated every year since in marches and a general strike, Barak ordered a commission headed by Supreme Court justice Theodor Or to launch an inquiry, which on Tuesday this week he said he “told the truth to, against my lawyers’ advice.”
The Or commission criticized senior police officials in its 2003 report, but ruled that those responsible for the 13 deaths would not be charged. It also stated that Barak had not been attentive to the Arab community.
Communist Party of Israel Secretary General, Adel Amer, said during a meeting of the Central Committee last Tuesday: “Barak’s apology is good. However, it was Barak who gave the orders to shoot the protestors and neither the former prime minister nor any of the police officers who used live ammunition have been brought to trial.” “We are still demanding that those responsible be brought to justice for the crimes of October 2000, including Ehud Barak himself,” Amer added.
“It’s a pity it took Barak almost 20 years and an election campaign in which he finds himself in trouble to issue an apology,” Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman said. “Is there anything they wouldn’t do to get Arab votes? … The apology is a start, but what’s down the line?” “Is Barak’s apology also taking ministerial responsibility for what was done?” she asked. “Will he work to reinvestigate the events? The apology is a beginning: what’s next?”
Fellow Hadash Knesset member Yousef Jabareen said that the October 2000 events, which reflect “a racist, hostile and violent attitude” are “still an open wound in the body of the Arab society.” According to Jabareen, “This ‘electoral apology’ of Barak … will not change the fact that he is standing at the top of the pyramid that oppressed and continues to oppress Arab citizens, and for many years had been evading responsibility and a frank apology.”
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif responded to the apology, saying: “This apology is important, but words do not heal in themselves, and now actions are needed. This is the time to recognize injustices and to push for a policy of full civic and national equality, and two states side by side in peace and security – Israel and Palestine.”
Human rights group Adalah, which supports Arab minority rights in Israel and represented in court the families of those killed, said Barak bears “direct responsibility” for the deaths, to which “has was indifferent.” Barak’s apology “has no value, as long as no charges were filed against all those responsible, including those who used live ammunition and sniper fire, which led to the killing of those 13 young Arabs.”Adalah also said: “police violence against Arab citizens, which still goes on further shows that the authorities have not learned their lessons from the October 2000 events.”