JERUSALEM (Apr. 5)
A violent confrontation between Israeli security forces and Israeli Arabs has created bitter emotions on both sides.
Israeli Arab leaders called for a general strike to protest what they said was police violence against Bedouin demonstrators near the town of Shfaram in the Galilee.
Clashes erupted Saturday night when Israeli police tried to break up protests against the demolition of three homes in Umm Sakhali, a Bedouin village near Shfaram.
At least 20 Israeli police and approximately the same number of protesters were hurt during the confrontations.
The clashes broke out when Israeli Arabs from surrounding villages arrived to try to rebuild the structures.
Local residents said the demolished homes had been standing for more than 40 years. The Interior Ministry, which requested the demolition orders, said they were recently built without permits.
Salakh Salim, head of the leftist Hadash Knesset faction, said police used “brutal measures” against the demonstrators, including “tear gas and even live fire.”
“We will not agree to this sort of humiliation and opposition,” Salim told Israel Radio. “It is as if we are in occupied territory. We are Israeli citizens, with Israeli identification cards.”
Israel’s police commissioner, Yehuda Wilk, charged that Bedouin community leaders were using the situation to create a political football.
He added that there was no justification for the violence directed at the police, who he said were enforcing court orders.
“It is inconceivable that a police officer should go to carry out an order, and be met by a hail of stones, or end up in the hospital,” Wilk said.
The violence prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to plan a visit to meet with Bedouin leaders in the Galilee, his office said.
Even while seeking to meet with the Bedouin leaders and defuse the situation, Netanyahu said the police had his full backing to enforce the law throughout Israel.
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Katzav, who is responsible for Israeli Arab affairs in the government, called on the Interior Ministry to be more sensitive toward the Bedouin community, which serves in the Israeli army.
The left-wing Meretz faction said the police action, which came on the eve of a Muslim holiday, the Feast of the Sacrifice, demonstrated insensitivity to the Israeli Arab population.