Arab Candidate for Premier Wounded During Protest over House Demolition

Tensions among Israeli Arabs are running high after the first member of their community to run for prime minister was wounded by Israeli police during a demonstration near Tel Aviv.

Legislator Azmi Beshara, who dropped out of the race two days before the May 17 elections, was wounded lightly in the shoulder on Monday by a rubber bullet.

Seven other Israeli Arabs were also wounded when Arab stone-throwers in the city of Lod protested the demolition of an Arab-owned home that police said was built without a permit.

The tensions are coming amid growing frustration within the Arab population over Premier-elect Ehud Barak’s apparent unwillingness to hold coalition talks with any of the Knesset’s 10 Arab members.

Beshara, who was hospitalized for the wound, later claimed that the police had shot him deliberately, even after identifying him as a Knesset member.

Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani blamed the Arab demonstrators for the violence, claiming that the police reacted in self-defense after the Arab protesters had pelted them with rocks.

A day earlier, another Israeli Arab legislator, Mohammed Baraka, was also lightly wounded when police used force to disperse a demonstration of Arab cucumber-growers near the northern town of Tamra.

Reacting to the incident in Lod, the National Steering Committee of Israel’s Arabs held an emergency session in a protest tent set up on the site of the demolished house.

The group charged that the police would have responded differently if the protesters had been Jews.

In an effort to dampen tensions, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited Lod on Tuesday and convinced Mayor Pinhas Idan to suspend the demolitions until a new government is established.

Also on Tuesday, the Knesset held a stormy debate about the demolitions.

Peres, who is serving as temporary speaker of the Parliament, told legislators he would propose the formation of a government committee to review each building that was allegedly built without a permit.

But his suggestion failed to calm Arab legislators, who protested loudly against what they described as police violence.

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