General strike called in Arab sector as tension over police violence grows

Arab Higher Monitoring Committee calls for strike Tuesday following violent clashes between Beduin and police in Rahat.

Clahses in Rahat between residents and police, January 18, 2014 (photo credit: YASSER OKBI/MAARIV HASHAVUA)
Clahses in Rahat between residents and police, January 18, 2014
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee called a general strike throughout the Arab sector for Tuesday, to protest the death of two men in recent clashes between police and locals in the Beduin city of Rahat.
Sami Ziadna, 45, was pronounced dead at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba last night, where he was taken following violence in the city. The hospital said Monday that his death appeared to be linked to a previous heart condition and was not the result of any violent injury. Locals and protesters claimed that Ziadna died as a result of the excessive use of tear gas by police in the area Sunday night.
Twenty-three people were treated at Soroka Sunday night, and by Monday three were still receiving attention, including one in moderate condition with a head wound. Police said that the wounded included two officers, one of whom was moderately hurt.
Though the circumstances are still unclear, the clashes took place at the funeral for Sami Jehar, a 21-year-old Rahat man who was killed while police detectives were attempting to execute a drug-related search warrant in the city and were attacked by rock-throwers.
A Justice Ministry investigation has yet to determine if the bullet that killed Jehar was fired by the police or not.
Tuesday’s planned general strike will come only two days after a strike was held in Beduin communities across the Negev to protest the death of Jehar.
Police said that a rock-throwing mob surrounded a police truck and that reinforcements arrived, with officers using crowd-control measures to allow them to escape.
They added that Cmdr.
Yoram Halevy, head of the Southern District, appointed an internal committee of inquiry which will examine how the police conducted themselves. The Justice Ministry unit for investigating the police will not, however, perform a probe of Sunday night’s events.
Police added that there are currently a number of officers serving at the Rahat station who have received death threats and are being provided with protection. They said that they will beef up their presence in the city in the coming days to prevent further violence and that “law and order is part of the foundation of life in a democratic country and it is unacceptable that citizens will attack law enforcement officers doing their duty.”
The statement also said that police expect leaders in the Arab sector to work with police to stave off further violence.
In an interview with Good Morning South, a radio program broadcast in southern Israel, Southern District Police spokesman Ch.-Supt.
Doron Ben-Hamo said that the officers “were on the verge of being lynched,” after they had arrived at the scene by accident and were attempting to reverse. Rahat Mayor Talal Krenawi said that the police truck was sent to the scene as a provocation and accused police of treating Beduin in Rahat “like they do in Jabalya and Gaza.”
President Reuven Rivlin telephoned Krenawi to lament the recent clashes and violence in the Beduin town and nearby villages in the Negev and expressed his condolences over the death of Jehar.
Rivlin asked Krenawi to convey his condolences to the families of the two dead men, and to the Beduin community as a whole, and wished those who were wounded a speedy recovery.
Rivlin said that it was imperative to calm tensions as quickly as possible.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel released a statement on Monday saying that “police murders of Arab citizens have become routine” and are part of an overall violent and aggressive police approach toward Arab citizens. They also accused the police of lying about what happened in Rahat.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) called for a state committee of inquiry to examine the two deaths, saying that since the October 2000 riots in which police killed 13 Israeli Arabs, over 45 Arab citizens have died at the hands of law enforcement.
“This is a reality that is unacceptable.
We can no longer talk about isolated incidents; this is part of a severe systematic problem.”
The Justice Ministry released a statement on Monday night that seemed to confirm the police version of events and did not consider that a crime had been committed. The ministry said that contrary to allegations, the police vehicle arrived by mistake and they would therefore, not be investigating the events of Sunday night.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.