Palestinians in Israel protest police brutality, neglect

People demonstrate in large numbers, holding flags

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel protest Israeli police brutality and neglect in the northern city of Umm al-Fahm on 5 March.

Heidi Levine SIPA

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel took to the streets of the northern city of Umm al-Fahm on 5 March to protest Israeli police brutality as well as the state’s failure to address organized crime and internal violence in Palestinian communities in Israel.

This was the eighth Friday of weekly protests Palestinian citizens of Israel are holding in their communities.

The massive turnout on Friday followed a particularly violent crackdown on protesters by police the previous week.

Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, said Israeli police likely used “deadly” and “extreme, life-threatening” weapons and tactics on 26 February “without any violence on the part of protest participants.”

Those weapons included rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, according to Adalah. Israeli police injured dozens of protesters during the 26 February demonstrations, and at least 40 required medical treatment.

They included Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and Umm al-Fahm’s mayor, Samir Sobhi Mahamed, both reportedly injured with stun grenades. They were both hospitalized:

Another protester was hit with a projectile to his head and required life-saving surgery, Adalah said.

Adalah has long asserted that Israeli police “operate under the institutional assumption” that Palestinian citizens of Israel are “enemies.”

Israeli police also blocked the city entrance to stop demonstrators from joining the protests, illegally preventing them from exercising their right to do so.

Adalah sent Israel’s attorney general and police commissioner an urgent letter last week citing the police abuses and calling on them not to use force in the 5 March protest.

Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament for the Ra’am party, attempted to participate in last Friday’s demonstration but was confronted by protesters and turned away.

Abbas has openly expressed his willingness to cooperate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and withdrew his Ra’am party from the Joint List, a bloc of predominantly Arab parties last month.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List in Israel’s parliament, previously said the bloc opposes Abbas’ behavior and “his collaboration with the inciter.”

Palestinian citizens in recent weeks also demonstrated against the Israeli police’s reckless and excessive use of lethal force in the death of 22-year-old Ahmad Hijazi.

Hijazi, a nursing student, was killed when police opened fire with assault rifles in a residential area of the town of Tamra on 2 February during an attempt to foil criminal activity, according to Adalah.

Jaber Hijazi, Ahmad’s brother, participated in Friday’s protest “out of sympathy with the residents of the city and Arab society in general,” Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Deep discrimination

In Palestinian communities inside Israel, the number of homicides has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2019 there were 89 homicides among Palestinian citizens of Israel, as compared with 36 among Israeli Jews, according to police figures cited by The Times of Israel.

While the number of homicides among Jews has remained fairly constant, it has increased steadily among Palestinian citizens, reaching an alarming 96 in 2020.

The contrast is stark given that Palestinians make up only 20 percent of the citizens of Israel.

Palestinian citizens of Israel live under dozens of laws and policies that discriminate against them in virtually every area of life just because they are not Jewish. This inevitably produces and entrenches sharp inequalities.

Researchers have long pointed to decades of discrimination and impoverishment due to Israeli state policies as a major factor in the relatively high rates of crime and rising domestic violence among Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel’s parliament adopted the so-called Nation-State Law in 2018 further entrenching Jewish supremacy and racial discrimination against Palestinians in its constitutional law.

The law explicitly affirms superior rights for Jews over Palestinians throughout historic Palestine – which includes present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are the survivors and their descendants who were able to remain in what became Israel following the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias.

While they enjoy more rights than Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, such as the right to vote, they have always been second-class citizens at best.

They are often referred to as “Israeli Arabs” by Israeli officials and media in order to erase their Palestinian identity and disconnect their struggle from that of other Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora.

The large number of Palestinian flags visible in the Umm al-Fahm protests is one indication that this effort to erase the national consciousness of Palestinian citizens of Israel has failed.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.