Investigations underway into Peki'in Riots

Police says they possess audio tapes and video footage which prove that Peki'in residents opened fire at security forces.

mda ambulance pekiin  (photo credit: MDA)
mda ambulance pekiin
(photo credit: MDA)
The police said Thursday that they possess audio tapes and video footage which prove beyond doubt that a number of residents of Peki'in opened fire at security forces in the violent riots which took place there on Tuesday. According to a report on Army Radio, police officers can be heard on one of the tapes shouting "they're firing at us." The report states that Public Security Minister Avi Dichter received the tapes on Wednesday. Dichter told Army Radio there were "grave incidents" during the riots. "For example, some rioters on rooftops hurled cinder blocks on policemen's heads with an intent to kill them, no less," he said. The Justice Ministry's Police Investigative Department continued to gather evidence and take statements from witnesses on Wednesday. Both sides agree that guns were fired, and there is at least one Peki'in resident still hospitalized in moderate condition with a gunshot wound to his stomach to prove it. But neither side can agree who shot first - if at all. At least one officer in the Northern District told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that they believed that some of the shells recovered may belong to guns held by Peki'in residents, many of whom serve in the security forces. In such an instance, the officer said, it would be difficult to differentiate between shells fired from a policeman's weapon and shells fired from a weapon held by an off-duty soldier, policeman or prison warden. Police said that they were aware that Peki'in's citizens had easy access to firearms, including stun and gas grenades. Nevertheless, Galilee Subdistrict police emphasized Wednesday that they believed that the truly violent protesters were a small fraction of the town's population, estimating "a few dozen hard-core" youth out of a total population of 5,000. They also emphasized that both prior to and following the violence Tuesday, police had been in contact with Druse elders, including involving them in attempts to mediate the contentious issue of the cell phone tower that led to the violence. In response to claims that someone had leaked to protesters advance information of police plans to carry out arrests of 12 suspected anti-cell phone tower vandals and arsonists, the Northern District officer told the Post that the youths of the village had known that the police were going to come because police had already launched one failed arrest attempt earlier in the week. "They were ready, they knew that we were going to come some time. If not Sunday, then Monday. If not Monday, then they'd wait till Tuesday," the officer said, emphasizing that there was not necessarily a leak in the police itself. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter continued to emphasize his support for the police Wednesday when, hours after his return to Israel from an official trip to the United States and Canada, the minister made a high-profile visit to the Nahariya hospital Wednesday evening where 12 police officers were still recovering from their wounds. One policeman remained in serious condition after undergoing emergency surgery Tuesday for a head injury he sustained after being struck with a large rock. "In Peki'in, there was serious violence against police officers, and I condemn all violence against those who enforce the rule of law," said Interior Committee chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines Wednesday. "But it is impossible under any terms to agree to the police using firearms against protesters." Paz-Pines cited a previous arson attack against a cellular antenna on the border between Ramat Gan and Givatayim in which "nobody even considered using firearms." In light of the incident, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen appeared before the Interior Committee Wednesday morning to try and account for the order of events in Peki'in one day earlier. On Sunday, Cohen, Northern District Police Chief Cmdr. Shimon Koren, Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif and village leaders will join Paz-Pines and the other members of the Interior Committee in touring Peki'in to try and assess the situation in the Upper Galilee village.