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Thirteen killed, no one punished: Remembering October 2000

During a single week in October of 2000, Israeli Police shot dead 13 Palestinians — 12 of them Israeli citizens — who took to the streets to show solidarity with demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza. The violence profoundly impacted the Palestinian community in Israel. Just as devastating, however, has been the complete absence of accountability.

A series of photos circulated on social media last week showing people holding portraits of 13 young men. The 13 men were Palestinian Arabs – 12 citizens of Israel and one resident of Gaza – who were killed by Israeli Police in what became known as the “October 2000 events.” The photos read in Arabic: “We carry the memory, we continue the struggle.”

This week Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the state’s population, are marking the 15th anniversary of those killings. The events were a significant turning point in the community’s history; but most people in Israel and abroad have long forgotten them, or are completely unaware of the victims’ stories, or have many misconceptions about what occurred that month.

On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, then-leader of the opposition Likud party, made his infamous visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound escorted by hundreds of Israeli police officers. The move was viewed as a deliberate provocation both against the Palestinian people and against Israel’s negotiations with the PLO, and became the final spark that unleashed the Second Intifada after months of worsening tensions.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories immediately demonstrated against Sharon’s bellicose move, but were met by Israeli security forces that used lethal force to suppress the protests, killing several Palestinians and injuring scores more.

Targeting citizens

Palestinian citizens in Israel soon organized their own demonstrations in Arab towns and villages across the country, with thousands taking to the streets in solidarity with Palestinians in the territories and in protest of the government’s policies. While the demonstrations were largely non-violent, rioting also occurred with stone-throwing, burning of tires and clashes with police forces.

Demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel in early October 2000. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

Demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel in early October 2000. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

The state’s response to the demonstrations inside Israel was unprecedented. Israeli police deployed thousands of officers around Arab communities, and more alarmingly, sent special sniper units to accompany the forces. The police and their snipers used live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas against the crowds. In one week, more than 1,000 protestors were wounded and 660 Palestinians were arrested.

The worst outcomes, however, were the 13 fatalities, nearly all of whom were shot in the chest, head or eyes by live or rubber bullets. On October 1, four Palestinian citizens were killed: 21-year-old Rami Ghara in Jatt; 26-year-old Eyad Lawabny in Nazareth; 23-year-old Mohammed Jabareen in Umm al-Fahem; and 18-year-old Ahmed Jabareen in Mu’awiya.

The next day on October 2, one Palestinian from Gaza and six Palestinian citizens were killed: 19-year-old Misleh Abu Jarad in Umm al-Fahem; 17-year-old Asel Asleh in Arrabe; 18-year-old Ala Nassar in Arrabe; 21-year-old Walid Abu Saleh in Sakhnin; 25-year-old Emad Ghanayim in Sakhnin; and 19-year-old Mohammad Khamayseh in Kufr Kanna.

The day after that, on October 3, one Palestinian citizen was killed: 24-year-old Ramez Bushnaq in Kufr Manda. Five days later, on October 8, two more Palestinian citizens were killed: 42-year-old Omar Akkawi in Nazareth; and 25-year-old Wissam Yazbak in Nazareth.

Israeli police aim their guns during demonstrations in October 2000. 13 Palestinians (twelve citizens of Israel and one resident of Gaza) were killed as a result of the police’s use of lethal weapons and other brutal tactics to suppress the demonstrations. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

Israeli police aim their guns during demonstrations in October 2000. 13 Palestinians (twelve citizens of Israel and one resident of Gaza) were killed as a result of the police’s use of lethal weapons and other brutal tactics to suppress the demonstrations. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

‘Battle conditions’

October 2000 was not the first time that the Israeli police had used violent methods against Palestinian citizens, nor the first time that protestors were killed by those methods. It was, however, the most deadly incident of state-sanctioned violence against the minority since the Kafr Qassem massacre of 1956, when 49 Palestinian citizens were shot dead while returning to their village during a military curfew.

The killings were particularly shocking because it showed how, despite cautious hope of improvement in the 1990s, Israeli authorities still viewed the Palestinian minority not as citizens to be protected, but as an enemy population to be suppressed. In effect, Israeli forces used the same brutal and lethal tactics against Palestinians within the Green Line as they did against Palestinians under occupation. “This was a case of semi-battling,” claimed one official regarding the police’s approach to the demonstrations; the officers were operating “under conditions of battle,” agreed another.

The scale and consistency of the brutality also made it clear that high-ranking Israeli officials were responsible for sanctioning the police’s methods, including the use of sniper fire. According to evidence brought against the state, these officials not only included commanding officers like Bentzi Sau, the head of the Border Police in the northern district at the time, but even then-prime minister Ehud Barak, who declared on radio that he had “instructed the minister of public security and the police commanders…[that they have] the green light for any action necessary to bring about the rule of law, to preserve public order and to secure freedom of movement for the citizens of the state…”

A man holds out bullets used by the Israeli police against demonstrators in early October 2000. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

A man holds out bullets used by the Israeli police against demonstrators in early October 2000. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

‘No justification for gunfire’

Shortly after the killings, the families of the 13 victims, represented by the legal center Adalah, began a legal struggle demanding investigations into the October events and the prosecution of all those responsible. Following intense pressure from the families, Arab political representatives and the Arab public, the Israeli government established an official commission of inquiry to examine the events, led by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or.

Released in 2003, the Or Commission’s report became a landmark document not only for its criticism of the police’s conduct, but for its acknowledgement of the wider historical discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of the state. The commission first found that there was no justification in Israel’s laws or police regulations for firing live or rubber bullets against the Palestinian citizens, and further found that there was no real threat in any of the cases to justify their use.

Just as significantly, the commission concluded that the Israeli government had to begin efforts on “giving true equality to the country’s Arab citizens,” and to correct the state’s historical views of its minority:

… it is important to act in order to root out the existence of negative prejudices against the Arab sector that were discovered even among experienced and respected officers in the police force. The police must instill among its officers the understanding that the Arab community as a whole is not their enemy, and that it should not be treated as an enemy. – Or Commission Report, pg. 768, para. 15

A child lays his head next to one of the Palestinians killed by Israeli police in early October 2000. Photo courtesy of Adalah.

A child lays his head next to one of the Palestinians killed by Israeli police in early October 2000. (photo courtesy of Adalah.)

Demanding justice

The Israeli authorities, however, had no interest in heeding the Or Commission. In a heavily-criticized report in September 2005, the Israel Police’s internal investigations division (“Mahash”) decided not to pursue any indictments against any officers or commanders. Later in January 2007, the attorney general also closed the investigations into the killings. Thus rather than prosecuting those responsible for the crimes, the state created a shield of impunity to help the perpetrators evade punishment. To this day, despite the Or Commission’s specific recommendations, not a single police officer or official has been indicted for the killings.

The police violence in October 2000 profoundly impacted the Palestinian community in Israel. Just as devastating, however, has been the complete absence of accountability for the state’s wrongs during that week. By refusing to set a firm precedent for the October events, the state effectively gave the green light for the police to continue employing brutality against Palestinian citizens, while granting them full impunity for their actions.

Meanwhile, the victims’ families and friends, while enduring the irreconcilable loss of their loved ones, have continued to demand justice for the killings despite a decade and a half of frustration and disappointment. In the midst of their hardships, the online photo campaign hopes to be a reminder to the families that they are not alone in their fight, and that the 13 young men have not been forgotten.

October 2000 in-text banner

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    COMMENTS

    1. Jason Kidd

      The new regime

      Reply to Comment
    2. Tony Riley

      Why was it wrong for the Prime Minister of Israel to visit the holiest Jewish site in Israel?

      Stop pretending that you’re not a bigot.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Why, Amjad Iraqi is no bigot at all, you’ll be relieved to know. In fact he wrote an inclusive, broad-minded, irenic essay on Jerusalem right here, take a look:

        http://972mag.com/jerusalems-sickness-runs-deeper-than-the-occupation/111925/

        As for Sharon, his stunt was unfortunately a deliberate provocation meant to kill any peace process and move himself from opposition leader to PM in the process. Sharon knew ahead of time his helicopter and massive security-backed promenade would set off dry tinder in an explosive situation and provoke violence. That was his aim. In order to promote himself politically and win an election. Typical Likud opposition antics. Then he got to the PM’s office and suddenly started saying all over the place that “things look different from ‘here’ (PMs office) then they do from ‘there’ (opposition bench). But by then he had succeeding in bringing on five years of bloodshed.

        From the 2001 Mitchell Report:
        “The Sharon visit did not cause the “Al-Aqsa Intifada”. But it was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed it was foreseen by those who urged that the visit be prohibited. . . . We have no basis on which to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first opportunity; or to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the [Government of Israel] to respond with lethal force.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Jason Kidd

          Irenic. lol. Put the thesaurus down. You are not using the word correctly
          Nobody uses this obscure word. You are a phony

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Offhand I can think of two authors who use the word: Philip Rieff, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic; and Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue.

            Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “As for Sharon, his stunt was unfortunately a deliberate provocation meant to kill any peace process”

          More Benny BS. The lie that Sharon’s visit to our holiest site at the temple mount was the trigger for the intifada has been exposed by none other than Suha Arafat, the widow of Arafat. Watch this video…

          http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/3689.htm

          According to Suha, Arafat already had a plan to initiate an intifada. Sharon’s visit to our holiest site, gave him the excuse to do it!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Arafat was tinder.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You forgot to take your medications again, Benny.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Days it took to arrest Henkin family murderers: 3

      Days it is taking to arrest the still unarrested Dawabshe family murderers: 68 and counting.

      Ratio: greater than 20 to 1. And growing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        How many Palestinian Arab terrorists get arrested by Hamas or even the PA for the murder of Israeli Jews?

        Actually, the PA and Hamas both demand the release of such terrorists from Israeli jails by taking hostages or making false promises about negotiating peace.

        Bu Benny has no problems with that. Very telling!

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Gussie the Jewish Hamasnik. Very telling. Boy you sure have come out of the closet. What a journey of personal growth you’ve made.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”Gussie the Jewish Hamasnik. Very telling. Boy you sure have come out of the closet. What a journey of personal growth you’ve made.”

            LOL, that definitely follows from what I said above.

            I think that I have managed to stump poor old Benny. He can’t even pretend to have a logical response.

            I think I am making progress.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            By the way, Benny, I take it that you are beginning to like me, yes?

            I mean YOU calling me a Hamasnik must mean that you like me since you are so obviously besotted with Hamas, I certainly never heard you criticizing them.

            Nor do you criticize the PA even though they too demand the release of murderous terrorists who who were guilty of murdering Jewish Israeli children. Go on Benny, call me a PAsnick too. LOL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I meant you emulate extremism, not their specific ideology.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”I meant you emulate extremism, not their specific ideology.”

            Whoa there Benny, hold on there boy…

            You are saying a lot in that truncated sentence. You need to clarify what you are saying though…

            1. I “emulate extremism”? Whose extremism do I emulate?

            2. “Not their specific ideology”? What ideology would that be Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You emulate the style of Hamas; not, of course, the content of their extremism, but their tendency to an all-or-none, black-and-white, gotta-have-it-all political style. Don’t overthink it. I could have made a similar point by saying you emulate the settler extremists in the same way, not in regards to their exact ideology, but their stubborn, simplistic, all-or-none way of thinking and framing things. So that Noam Sheizaf and Zeev Sternhell are dismissed as “idiots” blah blah blah. Look, you’re the one who implied that Israel not arresting the Dawabshe family murderers is justified by Hamas not arresting murderers.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”Look, you’re the one who implied that Israel not arresting the Dawabshe family murderers is justified by Hamas not arresting murderers.”

            You are the one who is over-thinking it Benny. I implied no such thing.

            I want all murderers arrested. I am just scandalized about your constant tirade against US, while never once are you critical of much worse acts against by THEM against us.

            Never once do I hear you criticize Palestinian Arab leaders, both Hamas and the PA for forcing us to release murderers of our children. Why Benny? Our lives are not important? Our murderers should go unpunished?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The vast majority had already served very long terms in prison. Many without trial. I don’t excuse murder. Haggai Matar (today) gets it right. I agree with all he writes. The letter and the spirit of it. How many settler murderers and other criminals are in prison? They still haven’t convicted the ones who poured gasoline down that kids throat and burned him alive. They still haven’t even arrested the Dawabshe family murderers. Though they arrested the Henkin couple murderers in two days. This is apartheid.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”The vast majority had already served very long terms in prison.”

            Which prison, Benny? Hamas’s prison? The PA’s prison? Nah coz they never arrest any of THEIR criminals who murder Israeli Jews.

            BEN:”Many without trial.”

            Ah, de poor darlings. What kind of trial do your Palestinian Arab terrorists give Israeli Jews, including children, before they murder them in cold blood?

            BEN:”I don’t excuse murder.”

            You just did above in so many words. De poor darlings served long enough in Israeli jails… some without trial (which is BS by the way coz your darling Abbas and Hamas demanded the release of convicted murderers, including the murderers of children).

            BEN:”Haggai Matar (today) gets it right. I agree with all he writes. The letter and the spirit of it.”

            Yes, you would coz facts don’t matter to you. Only who says whatever they say matters to you (I’ll visit what he has to say later).

            BEN:”How many settler murderers and other criminals are in prison?”

            Quite a few. How many murderers of Israeli Jews are in the prisons of the PA and Hamas? ANSWER: none. In fact, they demand their release even from Israeli jails.

            BEN:”They still haven’t convicted the ones who poured gasoline down that kids throat and burned him alive.”

            They are on trial as we speak and they will be sentenced. I repeat, the PA and Hamas certainly don’t put murderers of Israeli Jews on trial. But you ONLY criticize us, no THEM, how cone Benny?

            BEN:”They still haven’t even arrested the Dawabshe family murderers. Though they arrested the Henkin couple murderers in two days.”

            They are looking for them. Look in your country. Are there no cold cases there? Do you people always solve every murder case in two days?

            BEN:”This is apartheid.”

            If this is apartheid then how would you describe Palestinian Arab society? After all, as I proved to you, their track record is much worse than ours.

            Reply to Comment