Outrage continues in Majdal Shams

Ten days after near riot, anger at police is slow to fade

The Golan Druse village of Majdal Shams was calm on Wednesday. Ten days earlier, however, things were very different, and the repercussions are still being felt.
On July 11, 18 police officers came to search the home of Fada Sha’ar, 27, who studies art in Paris. Sha’ar had been arrested earlier in the day, upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, on suspicion of espionage and other security offenses. A media ban prevents publication of further details.
A few of the 18 officers were from the National Serious and International Crimes Unit.
They searched the home while the other policemen, from the Northern District, stood outside.
More than two thousand locals soon confronted the officers, and it seemed a riot might erupt. Officers fired tear gas and villagers overturned two patrol cars. But the intervention of village sheikhs (religious leaders) prevented events from spiraling out of control.
Sha’ar’s father, Amjad, was arrested three days later.
The events remain the subject of dispute.
“There never was such a thing here before,” one business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
“People here are very positive.
If police need to carry out a search, they are welcome to do so. If someone committed a crime or broke the law, then they should be arrested. But police should not have come in like this.”
“We love peace. We want to live a comfortable life, and live like normal people,” the man said.
According to locals, officers who secured Sha’ar’s home ordered a curious neighboring family to go back inside their home. “They said, ‘We are already home,’” the business owner said. “Then the officers started firing tear gas at them.
Babies inhaled the fumes.”
Video footage of the incident shows a Magen David Adom paramedic evacuating a toddler from the scene.
“Honor comes first for us. It’s what we teach our children.
There is a red line that cannot be crossed, and it was crossed,” the business owner said.
Another local man said, “We are not an autonomous entity.
We have no problem with the police operating here, but the police got mixed up and thought we were a village in the West Bank. We are Arab Syrians, not Lebanese or Palestinians.
Raiding a home like that is unacceptable. This was a unit of fools who do not understand the mentality of the people here. The officers were not informed properly.”
Police have presented a very different version of events.
“Officers did not start randomly firing tear gas,” a police spokesman said. “During the search, a menacing mob of thousands closed in on the officers. Their lives were in danger. Only then did they use tear gas.
“Afterward, some villagers said they mistook police for court bailiffs who had come to collect a debt. But even if they had been bailiffs, is that not a law enforcement operation? The fact is, there was a real danger to the officers, and it had to be faced,” the police spokesman said.
Relations between police and the village have been mended somewhat through efforts at dialogue, and regular chats between villagers and officers from the nearby Katzrin police station have resumed over cups of coffee at a gas station near the village entrance.
The residents do not hide their loyalty to Damascus.
Homes of relatives in Syria are clearly visible from the Israeli side of the border fence, and the village became known for its Shouting Hill, where relatives divided by the frontier would exchange greetings.
These days, cellphones have replaced the shouts.
“We are Syrians, but we are law-abiding residents of this country, like everyone else,” the business owner said.
“We’re not used to this kind of thing,” another local man said. “Normally, police come in and knock on doors. They would go in and even if they had to conduct a search, they would drink coffee with the inhabitants afterward. Why did they bring tear gas this time?” he asked.
“Everyone is welcome to come here anytime. Just show respect,” a third man said.
Asked what they thought of the allegations against the suspects, the men struck a neutral tone. “It’s neither something to be proud of nor is it a disgrace,” one said.
Addressing claims that the conduct of officers offended locals, the police spokesman said, “If there is criticism of our actions, complaints should be lodged and we will examine them. But no matter what the incident is, the law must be upheld.”
Cmdr. (ret.) Dan Ronen, a former head of the Northern District, added, “After every incident like this, there are claims against the police. But before such operations, situation analyses are held. And if police concluded that they had to go into a village in a certain way, there is a good reason for it.
“There was good cause to fear that the operation would be resisted.
And the confrontation that ensued justified the police’s measures,” Ronen said. “If officers had to use tear gas, it shows that they made the right preparations.”
Locals dismissed that view.
“If they had asked the local police station of Katzrin about us, they would have known that they should have not have come in like that,” a villager said.