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To fight police violence, address their racism

The killing of a young Bedouin man from Rahat and the death of another during the funeral have deepened the city’s lack of faith in the authorities. Only anti-racism education for police and young people alike can stop the landslide.

By Kher Albaz

Hundreds hold a funeral for Sami Ja'ar in the streets of Rahat. Ja'ar was shot by police officers last week during an operation in the city. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hundreds hold a funeral for Sami Ja’ar in the streets of Rahat. Ja’ar was shot to death by police officers two weeks ago during an operation in the city. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Or Commission, which investigated the shooting deaths of 13 Arab demonstrators in October 2000, found serious flaws in the Israeli police’s actions against Arab citizens. The atmosphere within the Israeli police, then and apparently now, can be summed up by one sentence from the committee’s recommendations: “The police must implemented an approach that views Israeli Arabs as Israeli citizens with equal rights.”

The violent events that took place in Rahat two weeks ago, which led to the police killing two residents and wounding of dozens of others, demonstrated that the Or Committee’s recommendations have clearly not been adopted by the police. This should be a red warning light for all of us; the degree of force and violence used against the residents, along with a trigger-happy policy generates a sense of discrimination against the Arab public. And, as if we have not learned anything from the past, we once again find ourselves calling upon law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation into events with such dire consequences.

The protesters have repeatedly voiced complaints about the police’s conduct, and specifically their “trigger fingers,” which has resulted in their loss of faith in law enforcement. If the violent behavior that led to the death of Sami Al-J’aar wasn’t enough, the attempt by the police to besmirch Sami’s name under the false pretext of drug dealing made it clear to the residents of the city that the police have no real intention of seriously investigating the events. The appearance of a police car at the funeral – which violated an agreement signed with the mayor of the city according to which there would be no police presence at the procession – generated a dangerous and needless provocation that led to the death of Sami Alziadna.

Bedouin mourners pray near the body of Sami Ziadna, 43, during his funeral in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat, January 19, 2015. Sami died a day earlier following clashes with Israeli police during the funeral of another Bedouin man who was killed a week earlier by Israeli policemen in the city. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Bedouin mourners pray near the body of Sami Ziadna, 43, during his funeral in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat, January 19, 2015. Sami died a day earlier following clashes with Israeli police during the funeral of Sami Ja’ar, who was killed a week earlier by Israeli policemen in the city. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The feeling in the streets of Rahat is that when it comes to Arabs, the police allow themselves to act in ways they would never against Jewish demonstrators. In addition, following the events there was a complete disregard of context on the part of leading Israeli politicians, as well as one-sided and limited media coverage that made no attempt to pay attention the protesters’ grievances. One way or another, residents have the impression that the actions of the police were guided by ulterior motives. Thus, it would behoove the Minister of Internal Security to announce the establishment of an external investigative committee that would objectively examine the events, reach conclusions and punish those responsible.

The police must take seriously such events and begin a thorough educational process to change ingrained attitudes that view all Arabs as a threat to seeing Arabs as equal citizens of the country. This is a process that requires direct acquaintance with Arab society and without the intervention of so-called “experts on Arab affairs.” This process should not be limited solely to the police but to children and young people in the educational system as well.

Violence and prejudice against Arab citizens is not a recent development, nor is it a result of the last war in Gaza, which led to an all-time low in the relations between Jews and Arabs in the Negev. These are the result of a continuing decline in the educational system’s curriculum that is geared toward shared values, and which has almost completely ceased since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Even former Minister of Education Shay Piron, who adopted the motto “the other is me” as the educational system’s yearly theme, will find that most schools prefer to select an other who has a physical handicap rather than an Arab pupil from a school in a neighboring community.

Bedouin men dodge live bullets and tear gas during clashes that erupted in the wake of a funeral, Rahat, southern Israel, January 18, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Bedouin men dodge live bullets and tear gas during clashes that erupted in the wake of Sami Ja’ar’s funeral, Rahat, January 18, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Without education we will march on a one-way street that will only lead to the deterioration of the already-charged relations between the Arab society in the Negev and the police and the Jewish population in the country. Along with the obligation of the police to investigate the tragic results of this episode, I call upon the leaders of the Arab community to calm the population. I call upon all of us to support people from both sides of the conflict who reject racist and violent values. We must demand that the existing local educational programs, like those that bring Jewish and Arab youth together, be adopted as part of a general educational policy on a national level. This is the only way our children will become messengers of a fair, democratic and more equal society. This is the only way we can make sure that events such as those that took place in Rahat in the past week will not happen again in the future.

Kher Albaz is the Co-Executive Director of AJEEC-NISPED – The Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

PHOTOS: Police kill Bedouin man, wound dozens at funeral
Why Palestinian citizens of Israel are no longer safe
Not just escalation: A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel

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    1. Pedro X

      Do you think that Arab actions had any part in these tragedies.

      Police attended Rahat for a drug bust. They were attacked by a mob which pelted them with rocks. They said they felt their lives were in danger and discharged their arms into the air.

      The circumstances surrounding Jaar’s death are rather cloudy. There was a suggestion he was a bystander watching the riot in process and was hit by a bullet while standing outside his home. However his father in an interview describes being woken up by the disturbance and going outside to see his son on the ground being beat and subdued by the police. Jaar’s father says the police handcuffed his son. After Jaar’s father intervened, Jaar’s father said he was beaten too but the police then let his son go and his son came back to the house complaining about tear gas in his eyes. Then minutes later Jaar found that he had been shot and died within minutes.

      The question is how did Jaar get into a confrontation with the police if he was not part of the mob which attacked the police?

      On the night of the funeral a rioter died of a heart attack. Again Arabs began rioting and attempting to lynch a police unit on the road near, not at, the funeral. Arutzsheva reports:

      “That night a police car drove on the road where the funeral of al-Jaar was conducted, until numerous cars blocked it off from all directions. A raging mass of hundreds of Arab rioters set upon the car and threw rocks at the officers inside, as they tried to escape from the blocked off area of the road. (Arutz sheva shows a video backing up the allegations.)

      The officers exercised restraint by waiting for back up despite the danger to their lives, and shortly thereafter the rescue force arrived and started firing flares and tear gas to prevent the likely murder of the officers, as can be seen in the video which starts as the back-up police car pulls up.

      “During all the days of the year we work continuously with the authorities and residents of the region,” said the commander of the southern district Yoram Halevi. “It is clear to us that the majority in Rahat is moderate and wants police services, but there are those who incite and call to harm officers, and we won’t let that pass.”

      So the problem is not trigger happy police, but Arabs who think they are beyond the law and have a right to attack police carrying out their lawful duties.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        And besides – to the victor go the spoils, and the spoils are Palestinian land and the Palestinians themselves.

        If you read Chapter 48 of ‘Goliath’, “The Best Time of Their Lives”, you’ll understand the situation better.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      If the prevailing ethos of the state is racist, why would you expect any amount of “sensitivity training” to ameliorate the situation? Did the South Africans undergo reflection when they killed and tortured their “untermenschen” in the years before the end of apartheid? Zionist police are taught that they can use the maximum of force with impunity for the Zionist courts will always rubber-stamp their actions. Of course the “security forces” are infected with racism. It is endemic throughout the Jewish society in Israel. Where have you been? So, what else is new?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        I’m not sure that is helpful Mike. All police forces, even in liberal states, face a problem. They recruit from the less-educated sectors of society, and overwhelming from whatever is the ethnic majority in that state, so that racism often becomes endemic within the police force. They attract authoritarian types and “jobs-worths” unquestioningly accepting militaristic discipline and the orders of the police-chief who will invariably be one of the more right-wing members of the political elite. They inevitably have a role in protecting the the security and the property of the elite, and are often directly required to suppress popular demonstrations and trade union activism.

        Incongruous as it is to talk about “sensitivity training” in an Israeli context, such efforts are vital for two reasons. (1) Zionism is steadily alienating international support and when the day comes when Israel is bereft of the American veto, and access to the American armoury and to tax-dollars, the continued survival of the state will depend upon the credibility of its institutions and its support for “the rule of law”; (2) the Israeli people, quite a lot of whom who have been born and brought up in the land where they now live and who mostly would like to live in peace and with justice, deserve better than a police force which is openly supporting the violence and settler fanaticism that is directly undermining the basis of civilized life within the land.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Mikesailor

      Brian: While I agree that many police forces contain at least some bias toward the majority, in the case of ‘Arabs’ it is far more pronounced. The victims of the police have absolutely no recourse. They can appeal to the corrupt Israeli legal system which will do nothing. They can file complaints and find that 97% of such complaints are closed automatically. If an “investigation” is authorized, years pass before any evidence or statements are gathered and the case is close for “lack of evidence”. Will “sensitivity training ” help? Not if the Zionist parties continue to claim that all Palestinians are interlopers bent on killing all Jews. Not if the dominant Israeli ethos is that stealing and/or killing Palestinians can be done with impunity. Your argument that because “Zionism is steadily alienating international support..” is a correct statement of present reality. Unlike you however, I find nothing laudable and much that is despicable about the Zionist philosophy. If it cannot survive, so much the better. Perhaps a system wherein all citizens are “created equal”, where there is no dominant religious/ethnic/cultural bias built into the system favoring one group over another is an ideal. Yet the striving for such a society should become the prevailing ethos and the current system scrapped in its entirety. To form a “more perfect Union” should be the goal, not “Juden, Juden uber alles”. Apparently you don’t live in Israel and don’t subscribe to its policies. Yet you support Zionism. So apparently you are willing to sentence others to live in a world under a system to which you would never ascribe. Don’t you see at least a little hypocrisy in your attitude?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        I am not sure how you can construe me as a Zionist. The status quo is untenable; a two state solution based on 1967 borders would leave Israel a majority Jewish state, but is clearly no longer feasible; So that leaves the one-state solution as the likely solution in the long-run, but that unfortunately will be a very long run, and will require Zionism to continue to de-legitimize itself, America to wake up to reality, anti-Apartheid-South-Africa style sanctions to start to bite, and a more sensitive, proactive, media-savvy Palestinian leadership to assert itself.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Mikesailor

      Once upon a time, I also believed there might be an excuse for a “Jewish” state. Of course, I only knew what I was exposed to, ie. the standard Zionist line about persecution, the Holocaust and how Jews were always singled out for opprobrium. Then in college I found out about the Liberty massacre of US sailors and the ensuing coverup. As I began to delve deeper I realized that what we had been fed all those years was a tissue of lies. Do you ever wondered why there is a “new, improved” Holocaust movie every year? Or why there are continued stories in Jewish, and some standard secular, media publications touting the “New” or “resurgence of” antisemitism? How another “Holocaust” is always just around the corner as evidenced by the fact that Icelanders or Brazilians have a less than favorable view of Israel? Recently I have seen a new twist on this story: That taking a universalist view of the Holocaust as an example of man’s inhumanity toward his fellows is somehow cheapening the view that the Holocaust should be considered a Jewish persecution and mentioning others somehow muddies that message. For according to this line of reasoning, Jews stand alone as the most persecuted merely because of the accident of birth and for no other reason. Which is why I find it the height of ,dare I say, chutzpah, when I hear Zionists complain of Palestinian antisemitism. Apparently Palestinians hate Zionists because they are Jews, not because they have been stolen from, brutalized, raped and killed over the past almost 100 years of the Zionist invasion. It reminds one of the story where a man cries for mercy before a court because he is an orphan; never mind he is the one who killed his parents. I don’t see any future in Zionism, neither for Jew nor non-Jew. It is, at heart, unadulterated racism papered over with crap about persecution. In that I agree with many Jews such as Einstein, Magnes, Shahak, Pappe, Finkelstein, Arendt, Spinoza and even Atzmon. The Palestinian leadership is non-existent. The PA is run by Quislings and the only leaders who could make a change have either been assassinated by the Israelis or their puppets, or are imprisoned. The situation will change but I’m afraid it will get much worse before it gets better.

      Reply to Comment