Rioting broke out in the Israeli-Arab town of Umm el-Fahm in the wake of a march by extreme right-wing Jewish activists on Wednesday morning. Police used tear gas and stun grenades against the rioters.
The march had been organised by activists connected to the outlawed Kach movement, founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was murdered 20 years ago this week. Participants said they were protesting against the Islamic Movement and its leader Sheikh Raad Salakh and his alleged support for Palestinian terror. The demonstrators called for the government to outlaw the Islamic Movement, just as Kach was 17 years ago following the Cave of Patriarchs massacre, in which one of its members, Baruch Goldstein, murdered 29 Palestinians. Arab leaders blamed the Kahanists of trying to carry out a “racist provocation”.
The local leadership in Umm el-Fahm initially decided to confront the marchers with a token demonstration. Deputy Mayor Mustafa Ralion said: “We understand that these people live off these events and they only want to provoke and heat up the atmosphere. We don’t want to play into their hands and therefore most of the town will carry on with their lives.”
But having opposed the march and its route until the Supreme Court upheld the protesters’ right to march, police were taking no chances and positioned 1,500 officers along the route.
They managed to keep the two sides apart and the march initially proceeded without casualties. However, stone-throwing by a group of youths in a counter demonstration caused the police to take action. Two Israeli-Arab Knesset members claimed they were hit by rubber bullets. Police also used tear gas and stun grenades and arrested eight Arab protesters.
Commander Shimon Koren, chief of the police’s northern district denied rubber bullets had been used and claimed that his officers were in danger when they charged the counter-demonstration.
But Knesset Member Afu Agbaria blamed the police for using excessive force, claiming that “only Arab civilians are not allowed to defend their home town from fascists and only the Arab civilians were arrested and wounded”.
Also on Wednesday, an Israeli-Arab politician and author admitted to espionage charges in the Haifa District Court. Issam Mahoul, a member of the Balad Party and various Israeli-Arab rights groups, was arrested six months ago on suspicion of having been in contact with Hizbollah agents and passing information on to them.
Despite charges that Mr Mahoul had agreed to pass information to Hizbollah about the location of military installations and details of the homes of senior officers and politicians, the prosecution agreed to drop the charge of “aiding the enemy in time of war.”
His sentencing hearing was postponed until next week and the prosecution will ask for 10 years’ imprisonment.