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Israeli officer: Police feared for lives in Arab riots

JERUSALEM, Sept. 3 (JTA) — Israeli forces killed 13 Israeli Arabs during riots last October because they feared for their lives, a former Israeli police commissioner said.

On Monday, Alik Ron also told a state panel investigating the riots that poor intelligence information had failed to prepare police for the intensity of the violence.

Ron said there is a history of tense relations between Arab residents of northern Israel and police, but that the outbreaks, which came during the beginning of the now-11-month-old Israeli-Palestinian violence, “fell upon us like thunder on a clear day.”

Ron also said that not all police officers were adequately trained to deal with such violence or in the use of crowd-dispersal methods such as rubber bullets.

During Ron’s testimony, there were demonstrations outside the Supreme Court building both supporting and opposing him. Ron proved hugely controversial during his tenure as commissioner of Israel’s northern police district, accused by Arab leaders of racism.

Now a part-time police consultant, Ron said previous conflicts must be taken into account to understand the riots, which surprised many by the force with which Israeli Arabs supported the nascent Palestinian uprising.

Ron said that violence against police had increased in Arab areas of Israel since the 1970s, and “the state did not enforce order.”

He said Muslim clerics had incited against Israel and the Jews, and that Israeli Arabs adopted methods of violence witnessed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Ron was criticized by panel members for remarks he previously made against Israeli Arab leaders. He was asked whether such statements were appropriate for a public official and uniformed police officer.

“It is my duty not to be silent,” he responded, saying that his relations with local Arab leaders were not problematic.

Regarding some of the specific incidents that occurred during the rioting, Ron said his request for more police after unrest broke out in late September in eastern Jerusalem was turned down, and that he had not made his request more strongly because he thought the violence would be confined to Jerusalem.

He said he had opposed the decision by a border police commander to station forces on a hill overlooking the Arab city of Umm el-Fahm.

Two Israeli Arabs were killed by border police fire on the first day of the unrest — one by a rubber bullet and the second by live fire.

Ron also said that the decision to keep open a road that passes through several Arab towns and villages in the Galilee on the second day of the riots was made by Israel’s then-police commissioner Yehuda Wilk. The move is believed to have increased violence.

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