Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Report Issued on Israeli Arab Riots, but True Closure Still Remains Elusive

September 2, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The report presented Monday on the October 2000 riots in the Israeli Arab sector was meant to close the file on those tragic events, but it appears that closure remains far off.

Officials of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said they intended to appeal Tuesday to Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein to immediately start legal proceedings against policemen involved in the killing of 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip during the riots.

Adalah represented the bereaved families during the proceedings of the Orr Commission, which published its findings Monday.

The appeal signaled that the public campaign regarding the killings has not ended with the commission’s report.

“I will not rest until I can look into the eyes of my son’s killer,” Ibrahim Jabarin, father of victim Ahmad Jabarin, told JTA.

Hassan Assali, a spokesman for the bereaved families, said the report was unsatisfactory because it didn’t single out those responsible for the killings.

The commission’s findings sent shock waves through the Israeli establishment, particularly the police. The commission charged police with most of the responsibility for the tragic events.

The release of the report comes as relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs have not fully recovered from the riots three years ago, during which Israeli Arabs rioted in solidarity with the nascent Palestinian intifada, closing main roads, attacking Jewish drivers and ransacking buildings.

Few specific recommendations were issued against the political echelons — Jews and Arabs alike — though the commission reprimanded most of the parties concerned for having contributed to the course of events.

The Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization of Israeli Arab groups and officials, said the report was tainted by political considerations.

The chairman of the monitoring committee, Shauki Hatib, said the Arab public rejected those parts of the report that dealt with Arab Knesset members’ role in the riots, and demanded that the Israeli leaders he considered responsible for the deaths be put on trial.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak appointed the commission in November 2000 in an effort to calm the Arab public — and win its electoral support in upcoming elections.

Eventually, Barak became one of the 14 people warned by the commission that they could be harmed by its findings.

However, though the commission condemned Barak for “not taking seriously the problems of Israel’s Arabs” and having failed to cope with the riots, it did not recommend that he be barred from future political position. The report comes as Barak is believed to be preparing the ground for a political comeback.

The internal security minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, was criticized for his handling of the police forces and for not taking control of the situation.

The commission recommended that Ben-Ami never again be given the internal security portfolio. However, Ben-Ami, a historian who came to politics from Tel Aviv University, decided to quit politics long before the commission published its 860-page report.

On Monday, he reacted to the report by saying that his actions had prevented the situation from getting even worse.

“I’m convinced that the manner in which I dealt with the crisis was with the best of my discretion and control,” he said from London.

The commission singled out the then-police commissioner, Yehuda Wilk, and the commander of the police’s northern district, Alik Ron, as being unsuitable for the posts they held. According to the report, the police’s use of weapons to quell the riots was not cleared through the political echelons.

The commission recommended that one senior police officer and one junior police officer be discharged from service due to their behavior in the riots. Only one officer of those warned during the commission’s inquiry was totally cleared.

The commission also recommended that the state prosecution proceed with a criminal investigation of all those allegedly involved in the fatal shootings.

The three panel commission — Justice Theodore Orr, Judge Hashem Khatib and Shimon Shamir — were unanimous in their recommendations.

It strongly criticized the inflammatory rhetoric of three Arab public figures that allegedly incited the Arab public for riots — Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement and then-mayor of Umm el-Fahm, where the worst rioting took place; and Knesset Members Azmi Beshara and Abdulmalik Dehamshe.

Salah was blamed for having promoted the “delegitimation of the state.” Since Salah no longer holds an official position — and in fact is now awaiting trial on charges of sending financial aid to Hamas — the commission stopped short of taking any punitive measures against him. Beshara and Dehamshe enjoy Knesset immunity.

Aside from the operational recommendations, the commission issued unprecedented criticism of attitude of Israeli governments toward the Arab population over the years. Police have developed an internal atmosphere in which Arab citizens of Israel are perceived as “enemy,” the report found.

President Moshe Katsav said he expected the report to serve as a “guideline for Israel’s leaders and the leaders of Israel’s Arabs to lead toward proper relations. Both the Arab and Jewish sectors should return to a regular way of life, to look toward the future and not mar coexistence.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not yet reacted to the report.

Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky said the police would study the report and draw conclusions.

Recommended from JTA