Furious over police violence and inaction in the face of armed gang violence, thousands of Arab citizens of Israel and progressive Jewish supporters protested in the city of Umm al-Fahem on Friday, March 5, against the state’s far-right government and police, demanding security and accountability for Arab communities.
This was the eighth consecutive Friday in which residents of Umm al-Fahm took to the streets to protest against the proliferation of crime in Arab towns and villages throughout Israel; but this time they were augmented by many thousands who came in solidarity following the previous week’s police brutality. “We will continue to fight in order to live with dignity, and defeat the violence and crime,” Joint List chair, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) told the Hebrew-language Communist Zo Haderech website after the mass protest.
The protest came after a particularly violent demonstration a week earlier on Friday, February 26, when police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons as they dispersed hundreds of demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm. At least 35 protesters were injured during the mêlée, one seriously (Mohand Mahagna, 30, who was seriously injured when hit in the head by a stun grenade), including Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) and the city’s mayor, Dr. Samir Mahamid. Joint List MKs accused the police of racist behavior and the use of excessive force and demanded the immediate opening of an independent investigation into the events of that day.
Protesters who took part in the protests this past Friday charged that police had deliberately closed off main roads leading to Umm al-Fahm to prevent many thousands from outside the immediate vicinity from reaching the city. MK Odeh tweeted, “Police are preventing people from coming to Umm al-Fahm because they are afraid of both the protestors and the criminal gangs.” The police were deployed Friday morning to block potential protestors knowing that the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the municipality of Umm al-Fahm had called for a mass protest to include many thousands from around the country following police violence in repressing demonstrators on February 26.
Because of the police’s blocking of traffic, two alternative protests were spontaneously organized by activists, among them members of Hadash from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, along Route 65, the major thoroughfare which runs the length of Wadi Ara, passing through Umm al-Fahm: one at the Mei Ami junction to the southwest of the original venue, and another at the Megido junction, to its northeast.
On Monday of last week, March 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government will be funneling NIS 150 million ($45 million) to combat violence in Israel’s Arab communities. Hadash and civil society organizations — who had hoped for billions more — harshly criticized the plan as too little, too late. “We demand a real plan to eradicate crime instead of Netanyahu’s phony plan which doesn’t even address the fight against organized crime, and that lacks adequate solutions in the realms of education, housing and welfare,” MK Jabareen said in response during the subsequent Friday protest. “We fear for the future of our society, and we will fight shoulder to shoulder, Arabs as well as Jews, for the sake of living in a society without guns or crime,” said the parliamentarian, as resident of the city. “Even though the wounds of the shootings have not yet healed, we’ll continue to voice Umm Al-Fahm’s cry in concert with the young people who long for a different future.”
MK Mansour Abbas, whose Ra’am party broke with the Joint List towards the upcoming elections, sought to join the demonstration — only to be rebuffed by dozens of demonstrators calling him a “traitor” and demanding that the leave. After some scuffles, Abbas’s aides removed him from the scene with the help of MK Jabareen.
Abbas, who leads the conservative Islamist Ra’am party, had sparked controversy within the Arab community, after conducting political discussions with Netanyahu – who openly sought to divide a wedge between the four parties constituting the Joint List — by expressing his willingness to cross previously unthinkable red lines, such as being prepared to vote in favor of granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and perhaps even propping up his future far-right coalition, in exchange for Netanyahu’s purported promises to assist Ra’ams agenda. These positions, once again, led to Ra’am’s exit/ouster from the Joint List, already a significant success for the racist prime minister whose ability to form a stable right-wing coalition was impinged in no small part by the electoral successes of the Joint List in the last three inconclusive elections held since the spring of 2019. Subsequently, pressure from the Jewish right brought Netanyahu to denounce Ra’am and the notion of any cooperation between himself and the Islamist party.