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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In what Arab civil rights groups termed "a pat on the back to the criminals of October 2000," Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter on Thursday announced the nomination of Lt.-Cmdr. Bentzi Sau to be the ministry's security secretary.
Sau is currently serving as the Border Police staff commander and previously served as the commander of the Jerusalem and Northern District Border Police. It was as the Border Police commander in the North that Sau was involved in the October 2000 riots, during which 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were killed in clashes with security forces.
The Or Commission, which probed the clashes, found that Sau commanded an unnecessary confrontation between border policemen and Arabs at the Umm el-Fahm junction, during which two protesters were killed by live rounds and rubber bullets were shot into the crowd. The commission also found that Sau was involved in sniper shootings at Arab stone-throwers.
In its findings, published in 2003, the commission recommended that "Sau should not be promoted in rank or position from his current post for a period of four years from the day of the publication of the commission's findings." In 2001, however, before the commission finished its proceedings, Sau received his current rank from then-internal security minister Uzi Landau.
At the time, Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights, petitioned the High Court against his promotion. The court rejected the petition, claiming that the Or Commission had not yet published its findings and therefore it could not intervene.
Although Sau has served in two other positions since the Or Commission published its findings, he has not been promoted since 2001. Police defended previous position switches by saying that they did not constitute promotions, but rather lateral moves.
Shortly after entering the ministry, Dichter announced that he intended to change the role of staff commander. He redefined the position as "security secretary," and lowered the rank needed to fill the position from commander to lieutenant-commander, thus enabling Sau to fill it.
The appointment, which Dichter made after consultation with Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi, is to go into effect on Sunday. Internal Security Ministry officials emphasized Thursday that they had examined the possibility of the promotion from a legal perspective in addition to reviewing Sau's professional merits.
The Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, said that "Sau's appointment is an additional nail in the coffin of the Or Commission's recommendations. The Mossawa Center demands that Dichter withdraw his appointment, which it sees as a pat on the back to the criminals of October 2000 that sends a message to the Arab public that their blood is cheap."