HRW condemns 'discriminatory' policing during May riots

HRW condemned the Israel Police's 'discriminatory' treatment of Jewish and Arab rioters in Lod during Operation Guardian of the Walls, while the police commissioner visited Lod's police station.

A burnt out bus after a day of riots in Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021 (photo credit: Courtesy)
A burnt out bus after a day of riots in Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israeli law enforcement agencies used excessive force to disperse protests by Palestinians in Lod during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published last week claimed. 

“Israeli authorities responded to the May events in Lod by forcibly dispersing Palestinians protesting peacefully while using inflammatory rhetoric and failing to act even-handedly as Jewish ultra-nationalists attacked Palestinians,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. 

“This apparent discriminatory response underscores the reality that the Israeli state apparatus privileges Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, wherever they live and irrespective of their legal status.”

HRW interviewed 10 Lod residents in July and October, including a current and a former city councilor, relatives of victims and two Jews. The organization also said that it had conducted analysis and geo-localization of a number of videos that were published on social media during the events of May 10 - May 14.

HRW also reviewed reports by Israeli and international media, interviewed a person who witnessed the events and wished to remain anonymous and spoke to analysts from two Israeli human rights organizations who had examined the issue.

PM Naftali Bennett and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at announcement of plan to combat violence in Arab society (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)PM Naftali Bennett and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at announcement of plan to combat violence in Arab society (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

The report claimed that the riots began when police began to fire teargas and throw stun grenades after a demonstrator outside Lod's al-Omari mosque replaced an Israeli flag with a Palestinian flag on public property.

It also claimed that the Lod municipality voluntarily provided accommodations for ultra-nationalist Jewish rioters overnight on May 12, despite them entering the city after an emergency curfew was already in place.

It added that Israeli authorities and Palestinian "groups" committed war crimes. It did not call Hamas a terror organization.

The report also claimed that Israeli courts treated the Jews arrested for killing Musa Hassuna differently than the Palestinians arrested for killing Yigal Yehoshua. It asserted that the authorities released all of the Jewish suspects on bail less than 48 hours after the killing after pleading self-defense, but held the Palestinian suspects for months and are charging them for committing an act of terrorism. 

The report admits that the two were killed in different circumstances: Hassuna was killed during a skirmish, while Yehoshua was stoned while driving by in his car.

The report called for a UN Commission of Inquiry into the "apparently discriminatory practices."

Also on Tuesday, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai visited the Lod Police Station.  

Shabtai announced that the entire station will undergo a special training course for fighting terror and dealing with riots. The course has previously only been given to Border Police and other specific units. It will eventually be given to police forces in all of the mixed Israeli-Arab cities.

The course is important because it will enable the Lod police force to shift quickly from standard policing routines to extreme rioting and violence, Shabtai said.

He said that the police will soon be launching a number of social initiatives aimed at connecting the city's different communities to the police. He also called on citizens to volunteer and take an active part in ensuring the safety of its residents.

Shabtai also ordered that two police motorcyclists be diverted to Lod in order to provide quicker responses to violent incidents.