311_Umm el fahem riot.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
It was a scene police foresaw months ago and tried in vain to prevent: Hundreds of Arab youths, many of them masked, burned tires and threw rocks at police in Umm el-Fahm on Wednesday, as far-Right activists demonstrated on the edge of the Galilee city.
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assassinationBen Gvir, Marzel set to demonstrate in Umm
Throughout the morning, rioters engaged police in running battles as smoke from tear gas canisters and the thuds of stun grenades enveloped some of the town’s streets.
Ten rioters were arrested and four policemen were lightly wounded, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The activists, followers of the late rabbi and MK Meir Kahane, were led by National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, Itamar Ben- Gvir and Baruch Marzel. They called to ban the Islamic Movement, which has run Umm el-Fahm’s municipality since 1989.
The activists, who planned the march to mark the 20th anniversary of Kahane’s murder, arrived in armored buses with placards and flags, and were surrounded by several hundred police officers deployed to protect them.
Three months ago, the High Court of Justice overruled the police’s decision to deny the activists permission to demonstrate in the city of some 46,000 inhabitants, which is the heartland of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood- affiliated Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch, led by firebrand cleric Raed Salah.
Just as police expected, local youths quickly became violent – as they did last year, when activists held a similar protest – and several hours of rioting followed, prompting officers to fire stun grenades and tear gas, while officers on horseback occasionally charged at the rioters.
Undercover border policemen dressed up as rioters launched two surprise raids during the clashes, arresting stunned suspects.
“As soon as stones were thrown and policemen were attacked, officers responded, firing stun grenades and tear gas at the rioters. We can confirm that 10 masked suspects were arrested,” Rosenfeld said.
Arab MKs Afo Agbaria (Hadash) and Haneen Zoabi (Balad) came to offer their support to locals. Zoabi said she was targeted by police firing rubber bullets.
“That is a ridiculous claim. No rubber bullets were fired by officers during the disturbances,” a police source told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday evening.
“The police defends fascists, and threatens the lives of Arab citizens, because they can shoot and injure people,” Zoabi said. “Why don’t they shoot in the air? Why did they aim at my back and neck? I am not only threatened by the Fascist Right, I am threatened by the police.”
She told Israel Radio she was very lightly hurt.
“If Zoabi was injured, it was worth going to Umm el-Fahm,” Marzel told Israel Radio. “She is our enemy.”
“We want Jewish children to be able to walk free in Umm el-Fahm, because this is the heart of the Land of Israel,” he added.
Ben-Ari said, “There is no reason that the Islamic Movement should be allowed to exist in Israel. In Egypt, it’s illegal. In Jordan, they’re not allowed to have any influence,” he said, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Locals were joined by haredi Natorei Karta activists carrying signs that read, “Arabs Yes, Zionists No.”
By midday the violence had died down, the activists had packed up and
left, and the rioters had dispersed. Police consider the event a success
in light of the lack of serious injury, and they did not expect the
disturbances to continue or spread.
“Our aim was to let a demonstration take place while maintaining public
order,” Deputy Police Insp.-Gen. Ilan Franco, who oversaw police
operations, said. “We moved against those who disturbed public order.”
Franco praised Northern District head Cmdr. Shimon Koren’s management of the events.