Pines to demand gov't probe into Peki'in riots

During visit in northern Galilee town, Druse leaders and MKs cast doubt on police ability to launch objective probe.

Pines 88 (photo credit: )
Pines 88
(photo credit: )
Less than a week after young men in the Galilee village of Peki'in clashed with police officers, calls for a government probe into police management of the incident are increasing. Skepticism only increased among members of the Knesset Interior Committee Sunday following a visit to the town and conversations with police and village leaders. Committee chairman Ophir Paz-Pines said that he planned to draft a letter to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter demanding the establishment of a cabinet-level investigative committee - led by a judge - to probe the events that led to police allegedly opening fire with live ammunition on protesters last Tuesday morning. Although the committee members were scheduled to meet with Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, Northern District Police Cmdr. Shimon Koren and Galilee Subdistrict Lt.-Cmdr. Nir Mariash at the Ma'ona police station, Paz-Pines and the other MKs arrived at the police station to discover at the last minute that Cohen would not be attending the meeting. Cohen's spokeswomen said the meeting between committee members and police would be closed to the press, in contradiction to plans in place since Thursday. People who were allowed in said the police had offered no information in the meeting that had not already been revealed in the media. Officers said police had made a conscious decision not to arm police with rubber bullets - leaving those on the scene with the choice of hand-to-hand combat against protesters with batons or live fire. At one point, MK Nadia Hilu (Labor) confronted police with allegations heard over the weekend that video evidence they had presented to show the brutality of the protesters against local Jewish residents had been fabricated. Paz-Pines and seven other MKs began their fact-finding mission early Sunday morning in a conference room in Peki'in, where they met with local residents, village elders and representatives of Druse and Circassian communities from across the North. "We don't trust the police, and we don't want to put our faith in them," local council head Muhammad Hir said. He said he did not trust the police to "check themselves." The only two probes into last Tuesday's events are an internal police probe and a probe by the Justice Department's Police Investigative Division. The latter is frequently viewed with distrust, as many former police fill the organization's ranks. "The police cannot claim that they were caught off guard by the violence here," Paz-Pines said. He said the police's claim that they had not anticipated such a response was belied by the size of the force they sent into the town. An estimated 200 police officers, border police and YASAM antiriot troops were brought to the town early Tuesday morning to carry out a series of arrests of suspects in the arson of a cellular antenna. "There is no doubt that no body is capable of investigating itself," said Paz-Pines, calling on Dichter to establish a cabinet-level committee during next week's cabinet meeting. During the interview with the MKs, community elders condemned the violence of both village youth and police, but emphasized that no situation could justify the use of live ammunition against protesters. Both locals and MK Dov Kheinin cast doubt on the veracity of police evidence - from allegedly doctored videos to the testimony of the young border policewoman who was taken hostage. Whereas police claimed that she had remained unharmed on the day of the protests, she changed her account later in the week, claiming that she had been beaten and even stabbed. Deputy Foreign Minister Majallie Whbee (Kadima) renewed his calls for Koren's resignation, reiterating that "any commander who does not understand the local population and how to deal with it cannot expect to be allowed to continue in office." One Druse resident, begging to be heard at the forum, listed his family's proof of patriotism. "My father... they used to call him Yossi Cohen, because he worked all the time with Jews. I served in the IDF... I was a colonel and I have three sons - all combat soldiers - who are currently serving in the army. One is a lieutenant-colonel, one a major and one a sergeant-major. Why, then, do I have to wake up at 4 a.m. to find that I am being conquered the way I learned to conquer an objective in the army? I learned to - and did - conquer fortified objectives in the army, and that was exactly what they did here. They treated us as a military objective."