Arab-Israelis expressed outrage as around 10,000 people took to the streets of the Arab majority city of Tamra near Haifa to participate in a mass funeral, after a civilian bystander - 22-year old nursing student Ahmad Hajazi - was killed and another injured in the crossfire of a firefight between Israel Police and a number of suspects in the city on Monday night.
Despite the fact that the mass funeral violated coronavirus restrictions, police did not attempt to disperse mourners and blocked the road instead.
The crowd grew after the two policemen involved in the incident were questioned and released unconditionally earlier on Tuesday, after several hours of interrogation by the DIP. The two claimed during their interrogation that they felt their lives were in danger and therefore carried out the shooting.
The Northern District Police Chief Shimon Lavi, spoke on the matter and clarified that he backs the conduct of the police in the incident. Among other things, Lavi said that harsh actions must be taken against anyone who attacks police officers and that "anyone who fires at a police officer with a firearm is liable to die."
The victim in the incident was Ahmad Hijazi, a 22-year-old nursing student from Tamra who was supposed to start working at the Carmel Medical Center on Tuesday. Hijazi reportedly was at the scene after he exited his home to see what was going on.
MK Jaber Asaqla of the Joint List took part in the demonstration and wrote on his Twitter account that he was "currently with thousands of protesters at the Tamra junction. Citizens who shout an outcry of anger that have become a victim of ongoing contempt and neglect by law enforcement."
"Frustrated citizens who do not feel safe leaving their homes because the police who need to keep them safe are doing the exact opposite," Asaqla added.
The incident occurred after police saw a number of suspects firing at a house. When the police attempted to arrest the suspects, they fired at the police with automatic weapons. The police fired back in response, killing one suspect and injuring another. Amid the clash, Hijazi and another bystander got caught in the crossfire, killing him and injuring the other.
It is still unclear who fired the bullet that killed Hijazi and police are still searching for some of the suspects involved in the incident. The police officers involved in the incident are under investigation by the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP).
In an interview with KAN Reshet Bet radio, Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi praised the police officers in the incident who were in the area after a series of shooting incidents intended to extort a businessman were reported. "Whoever shoots at a police officer, his sentence is death," said Lavi to KAN.
MUHAMMAD ARAMUSH, a doctor who was injured in the incident, told Channel 12 that a police officer shot him and Hijazi. "I do not want to tell you that this is a mistake – this is not a mistake," he said. "If a police officer in the State of Israel, who deals with criminals in his profession, does not know how to distinguish between a criminal and a person, this is not a mistake - it is negligence."
Aramush treated the injured at the scene and recognized Hijazi from his work at the Bnai Zion Medical Center, according to Army Radio. "We did not know that the shooting was so close, right in our yard," he said. "The difference between me and Ahmad Hajazi is a car that by chance protected me."
Politicians and Arab-Israeli leaders expressed outrage at the incident and the out-of-control crime and murder rates in the Arab sector, and placed blame on police for negligence which they say led to the death.
"Tonight we witnessed once again how life in the shadow of crime has become a Russian roulette in our streets," tweeted Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman in response to the incident. "If you do not die from the gunfire of criminals, you may die from the gunfire of police."
After the incident, Ma’an Party head Mohammad Darawshe announced that his party would demand to be responsible for a police ministry if they enter the coalition, although there isn't currently a dedicated ministry for police.
"As a condition for our entry into the government we will demand the police file," said Darawshe. "As Police Minister, I will take care of the eradication of violence on the one hand, and on the other hand more responsible operations by the police in the field that will prevent unnecessary harm to innocent civilians, as happened tonight in Tamra."
Joint List faction MK Ahmed Tibi condemned the incident as well on Tuesday, saying that "the public demands a fight against crime. But police firing within a neighborhood from an automatic weapon that results in the killing of the late Ahmad Higazi is unbearable. Some of us are deprived of their lives because of the criminals and some because of the cops. The incident requires an in-depth investigation."
"Only a police indifferent to human life opens a firefight in the heart of a residential neighborhood, among innocent civilians," said former MK Esawi Frej, fifth on the Meretz Party's list, in response to the incident. "The saddest thing is that Hijazi's death will pass, without anyone paying, without anything changing."
Joint List MK Sondos Saleh stressed that within just the first 32 days of this year, 15 people have been killed, meaning that there was one murder almost every two days.
Saleh called on the attorney-general to conduct an external investigation in addition to the investigation already being carried out by the DIP, which she said has "proven its 'effectiveness' as a department for covering and protecting violent police officers, and is unreliable and not authorized to investigate even in this case, in which the police opened live fire in the heart of a residential neighborhood."
"There will already not be justice for families who have lost loved ones, but at least we will also spare them the burial of the case in the DIP together with their loved ones," said Saleh, who added that 1,766 complaints were shelved or closed without an investigation in 2018. "This investigation case will not be one of them," she added.
MERETZ LEADER Nitzan Horowitz called for an urgent investigation into the incident, not just by the DIP.
"What happened in Tamra indicates the critical situation in Arab society," said Horowitz. "It's the Wild West. Crime and violence take a toll on citizens and cause heavy suffering for residents. The helplessness of the police creates a feeling of suffocation. The fight against crime in the Arab sector is not a sectoral matter. The issue must occupy a central place in the national order of priority."
The Regavim movement called for an investigation into the incident and called on Arab-Israeli leaders to fully back Israel Police's efforts
in fighting crime in the Arab sector.
The Abraham Initiatives stressed that while the details of the incident are still unclear, "one thing is clear: the police failed, and although it was a pre-planned ambush, an innocent civilian was killed which is a horrific result that is unacceptable."
"It cannot be that the price of the fight against crime will be the killing of civilians," added the organization. "The police must act with professionalism and tools that will enable them to fight a war of severity in organized crime, and bring the criminals to justice without harming civilians. Incidents of this kind fatally damage the remnants of the Arab public's trust in the police."
The Abraham Initiatives added that the decision by police to announce immediately after the incident that all four victims were allegedly suspects, "increases the suspicion of Arab citizens towards the police."
"Police are expected to check the details before issuing misleading information, and this is a key element in the trust necessary for law enforcement," said the organization.
Weapons-related arrests by the Police increased by about 22% in 2020 compared to 2019, with 90% of the arrested suspects coming from the Arab-Israeli sector, as murders and violent crimes spiked in Arab-Israeli society last year.
In June, the Personal Security Index report by the Abraham Initiatives organization stressed that "policing is only the Band-Aid" and "to prevent and to change the root causes, the Israeli government needs to develop and execute a long-term plan that includes almost all the government ministries and agencies.”
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with heads of authorities from Israel's Arab sector to continue discussion on a proposal that will be submitted to the government for approval regarding the eradication of violence and crime in Arab society
, which has seen an alarming rise in recent months.
2020 was the bloodiest year for Arab-Israeli society since the recording of murder rates began, with the Abraham Initiatives reporting that 96 citizens were murdered and hundreds were seriously wounded, while the Aman Center for Combating Violence in Arab Society reported that 113 citizens were murdered. In comparison, 89 Arab citizens were killed in 2019.
December 2020 also marked the bloodiest month on record, with over 17 murders in just one month.
The organization warned that 2021 seemingly would be just as bloody, as already in the first days of the year a number of murders have been reported, alongside the large-scale theft of ammunition from the IDF.