Israel’s Arab Citizens Decry Mass Arrests Aimed at Silencing Them

The High Follow up Committee for Arabs Citizens of Israel, an umbrella organization that is regarded as the national representative of the community, called on Wednesday, May 26, for an end to the government’s detention campaign aimed at politically intimidating and silencing the state’s Arab-Palestinian minority. The committee also demanded the annulment of all indictments issued against activists who were arrested during the past weeks while taking part in legitimate political actions, Al‑Ittihad and Zo Haderech have reported.

Israel's highly militarized police stand ready to confront protesters in the streets of Arab Jaffa, May 21, 2021.

Israel’s highly militarized police stand ready to confront protesters in the streets of Arab Jaffa, May 21, 2021. (Photo: Activestills)

The High Follow-Up Committee held a press conference Tuesday morning, May 25, in Haifa to address the wave of detentions that coincided with Israel’s latest military operation against Gaza and the repression of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. According to the committee, 80-90% of the arrests during the past few weeks were for offenses that occurred during clashes between police and demonstrators like the insulting of an officer, disturbing an officer in the line of duty, assaulting an officer, or taking part in an allegedly illegal gathering; these in contrast to clearly indictable offenses like property damage, stone throwing, or assaults on civilians.

The chairman of the Committee and former Hadash MK Mohamad Barakeh, told journalists that the Israeli authorities are defaming Arab activism with the support of Israel’s compliant media. The authorities, Barakeh insisted, have no respect for even basic human rights or the equality for all citizens. “We have the right to demonstrate, stage protests and express our anger over what is happening,” added Mudar Younes, the head of the Committee of Local Arab Municipalities. “This is a natural and legitimate right.”

While the press conference was taking place, journalists were informed of the arrest earlier in the day of Raja Za’atry in his home in Haifa. Za’a’ry is a member of the Haifa Municipal Council for Hadash, a leading activist in the Communist Party of Israel, and head of media for the High Follow-up Committee. As such, Za’atry was also one of the main organizers of the same press conference. Za’atry was later released without being interrogated or charged, thereby confirming that his detention on Tuesday was clearly intended as an act of intimidation.

According to Dr. Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah – The Legal Centre for the Arab Minority in Israel, Israel’s campaign against its Arab-Palestinian citizens is “racist and illegal.” He claimed that its goal is to intimidate and deter the community from political activism.

Jabareen wondered aloud about the role of Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet or Shabak, in the campaign, given that most of the charges relate to civil issues. “The campaign has no legal basis. The detentions are part of Israel’s undermining of the right to free expression and to hold protests.” Jabareen told the gathering that 30-40% of the detainees required medical treatment following their arrest. He said that the state prosecution is appealing any decision by judges to release the detainees — even if the chances of the state’s appeals being accepted are low — in order to keep people in custody. He added that the police have even been requesting that those arrested for minor offenses remain in custody until the end of legal proceedings.

Related: Israel’s Police Launch Wave of Mass Arrests against Arab Citizens