Palestinians in Israel strike to protest police killings

Sami Ziadna, who died as a result of excessive tear gas inhalation on Sunday night, was the fiftieth Palestinian citizen of Israel to be killed by Israeli police since October 2000.

Then, as protests spread throughout Palestinian communities in present-day Israel, thirteen unarmed demonstrators were shot and killed by police officers in the northern Galilee region. Since then, Palestinian citizens of Israel have endured ongoing police brutality.

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship but dozens of discriminatory laws stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, including land and education.

Mourners shout slogans during the 18 January funeral of Sami Jaar, killed last week by police.

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Tear gas clouds over the cemetery of Rahat during clashes between police and residents on 18 January. The clashes erupted during the funeral of Sami Jaar, who was killed the previous week by police.

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Ziadna, from the town of Rahat in the southern Naqab (Negev) region, was killed during a funeral procession for Sami Jaar, a 22-year-old Palestinian Bedouin from the same town who was shot and killed last Wednesday by Israeli police as they clashed with local youth.

Palestinians in present-day Israel held a nationwide general strike on Tuesday and protests have continued in cities including Rahat, Beir al-Sabe (Beersheba), Haifa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. A three-day general strike shut down business as usual the Naqab.

“All in all, this was a very successful strike,” Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, a Haifa-based Palestinian advocacy group, told The Electronic Intifada. “Across the Galilee region — even though we are geographically distant from the Naqab — the feeling of solidarity was strong enough for people to close their shops and not send their kids to school.”

“Sent a message”

“People really committed to it, especially the youth and school-age children,” Nashif said, adding that the strikes and protests “sent a message to the Israelis.”

Meanwhile, Israeli media have “been busy demonizing the Palestinian Bedouin in the south … in the Naqab,” he added. “Israel wants to give the image that the police were under attack by the Palestinians, to portray the police as victims.”

In Haifa, dozens of protesters came out and marched throughout the city for three consecutive nights, starting on Sunday. Despite a heavy police presence on Tuesday, approximately a hundred people waved Palestinian flags and marched down Ben Gurion Street, the city’s tourist hub.

“With our souls and our blood, we will avenge the martyr,” they cried out in Arabic. “From the Naqab to Haifa, resist the police,” others chanted.

Israeli police arrest a youth during clashes following the funeral of Sami Ziadna in the city of Rahat on 19 January.

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Talal al-Krenawi, the mayor of Bedouin city of Rahat, displays on 19 January the ammunition fired by the Israeli police during clashes the previous day.

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Elsewhere, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Palestinian students protested on Monday and Tuesday. As demonstrators began to assemble in front of a campus café on Tuesday, employees began hanging dozens of Israeli flags on the building.

“It was clear that they did it as a response to our previous protests,” Farah Bayadsi, a Jerusalem-based lawyer and human rights activist, told The Electronic Intifada.

Majd Hamdan, the secretary of the Balad political party’s student branch at Hebrew University, organized the protests on campus. “We had a duty to come out and protest on behalf of the martyrs in the Naqab,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “As student organizations, we also held strikes in the [Israeli] universities.”

“There were no arrests this time, but there was a large police presence to intimidate,” Hamdan said. “As a student movement, we are supposed to play an important role in the struggle against injustice and police brutality.”

“Arab blood is not cheap”

When dozens of students protested at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on Wednesday, police responded by detaining and interrogating three of the demonstrators, as reported by the Arabic-language publication Arabs48.

At Tel Aviv University, approximately two hundred Palestinian students protested against police violence on Tuesday afternoon.

“The police came out in huge numbers,” Mohammed Osama Eghbariya, a student activist, told The Electronic Intifada. “We came to show our opposition to the monstrous way that Israeli police kill Palestinians.”

On Wednesday night, dozens of Palestinian students and leftwing activists assembled in front of Tel Aviv University for a candlelight vigil. “We have every intention to continue our direct actions and protests on campus throughout next week,” Eghbariya explained. “We want to continue resisting this injustice until police violence stops once and for all.”

“The police oppression hasn’t slowed down in recent years,” he said. “On the contrary, it has only increased.”

Mourners pray near the body of Sami Ziadna during his funeral in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat on 19 January. Ziadna died after inhaling tear gas during the funeral of a youth killed by Israeli police.

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Israeli police treat an injured protester after he was hit by a police car on 20 January during clashes in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat following a protest condemning the death of two residents by Israeli police in the last week.

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Although Israeli police claim that Mahash — a governmental body tasked with examining claims of police misconduct — is investigating the recent slayings in the Naqab, few have hope that it will deliver justice for the victims’ families.

A September 2014 report on police violence published by Adalah concludes that “Mahash continues to provide wide immunity to the police from being held to account, and protects them from disciplinary measures for their brutal acts of violence and repression,” including police slayings.

From the 11,282 complaints of police misconduct submitted between 2011 and 2013, Adalah found that Mahash closed 93 percent “with or without an investigation.” More alarmingly still, only 3.3 percent led to disciplinary action against police officers and a mere 2.7 percent resulted in prosecution.

“This grants the police impunity for their actions, and is a factor that shapes the police force’s use of violence against Israeli citizens, particularly against Palestinian citizens,” the Adalah report adds.

Back in Jerusalem, student activist Majd Hamdan said protests would continue as long as police treat Palestinian lives with contempt. “We have to protest to show them that Arab blood is not cheap,” he said.

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His reportage can be found at Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_