Umm el-Fahm's ugly day

Far-Right march leads to violent clashes in Israeli Arab heartland.

umm el-fahm march 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
umm el-fahm march 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Scores of far-Right activists waving Israeli flags and singing "Am Yisrael Chai" marched on the outskirts of Umm el-Fahm on Tuesday, sparking clashes between stone-throwing Arab youth and police who used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them. Sixteen officers were lightly wounded and 10 Israeli Arabs were arrested, police said. Another 15 protesters were lightly wounded, according to the town's deputy mayor, Mustafa Suheil. None of the marchers was hurt, police said. Hundreds of Umm el-Fahm residents and their supporters, some waving Palestinian flags and masked with head scarves, took to the streets or stood on rooftops and balconies to protest the 40-minute march led by Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir, both formerly of the outlawed Kach movement. "I'm here to defend my homeland and our land," said 25-year-old local resident Alaa Mahameed, who was sniffing an onion slice to neutralize the effect of the tear gas fired in his general direction after the rioting began. "This land is ours, not Baruch Marzel's. He has no place here. Would they let us go and protest there where he lives [in the settlement of Kiryat Arba]? They wouldn't let us." Insurance agent Youssef Tallass Mahajna said he was there to show solidarity with his people and to prevent Marzel from entering the Wadi Ara city. "We are not going to let him enter because his manner and style are not acceptable to us," Mahajna said. "He is a settler in the West Bank and he asks for the transfer of Arab-Israelis, and particularly, the people of Umm el-Fahm... He is an enemy of the people of Umm el-Fahm." Marzel, who said Arabs in Umm el-Fahm wanted to build an Islamic state and "destroy Israel," added that he was pleased to finally have marched here "after 25 years of work." "It's clearly evident that when the State of Israel wants to take care of the Arab enemy, it can," Marzel told The Jerusalem Post. "And if we want, we will destroy the illegal houses there and impose law and order in Umm el-Fahm, and we will take care of the hostile seed that's inside it and we will drive out the hostile elements that are inside Umm el-Fahm." A group of locals who tried to "make contact with the march" were dispersed with stun grenades, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. After the march, "major riots" began as protesters hurled stones and rocks toward police officers, who had been acting as a buffer between local residents and the marchers. Police used "a minimum amount of force", Rosenfeld said, dispersing the crowds with tear gas, stun grenades and a water cannon. The riots continued for at least an hour and a half. "It could have been a quiet day, but [residents] decided differently, unfortunately," he said. More than 2,500 police personnel were deployed to ensure public order, he added. MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta'al), who did not attend the protest, said the visit was "provocative" and would not contribute to stable relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. "Anyone can visit Umm el-Fahm regardless of his ideology, eat in the beautiful restaurants, and enjoy the atmosphere, but coming in such a provocative way with Israeli flags, [there is] no doubt that the motive behind such a demonstration is simply to provoke and to persuade or to present this fascist ideology in the most dangerous way," Sarsour said. The march, which was approved by the High Court of Justice in October, was supposed to take place in December, but police prevented the activists from marching after receiving intelligence that serious disturbances could ensue. The Umm el-Fahm Municipality had declared a general strike on Tuesday to protest the event. AP contributed to this report.