Police response

There need to be responsible Arab voices channeling anger into meaningful and effective protest.

A masked Palestinian protester stands near burning tires during clashes with police in Isawiya. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A masked Palestinian protester stands near burning tires during clashes with police in Isawiya.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What precisely happened in Kafr Kana to 22-year-old Kheir Hamdan on Friday night? It depends whom you ask.
According to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, “A frenzied Arab terrorist attacked our police officers with a knife in an attempt to kill them.” The police response to this attack was, therefore, “expected of our security people.”
In contrast, if you ask MK Ahmed Tibi of the United Arab List-Ta’al party, what happened in the Galilee village on Friday night was a “mafia-style execution.”
“An officer shoots Kheir Hamdan in Kafr Kana after he is seen retreating and walking away. He is immediately dragged and mounted in the car savagely,” Tibi wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Police said that Kheir al-Din Hamdan was shot after he tried to stab police during the arrest of another man from Kafr Kana.
However, a short, edited surveillance video of the incident, which surfaced Saturday on the popular Israeli- Arab website Panet, showed a different sequence of events.
Hamdan is seen banging on the window of a police van with an object, in an apparent attempt to protest or prevent the arrest of Arab detainees inside the vehicle.
When a police officer tries to open the back door of the van to confront him, Hamdan lunges at him with the object, forcing the officer back inside. Hamdan begins to walk away, officers emerge from the van and one shoots him as he retreats.
If the video accurately reflects what happened, the police clearly did not handle the situation properly.
Large swathes of Arab citizens have concluded that Tibi’s version of what happened is closest to the truth.
The result has been more riots and a general commercial and school strike in the Arab sector on Sunday.
The first order of business, to calm a situation that is spiraling out of control, is to get to the bottom of what happened in Kafr Kana. And these efforts should be carried out while maintaining open channels of communication with Israeli Arab leadership both in the village and nationwide.
While a quick and transparent investigation of the incident that led to Hamdan’s death is essential, it will do little to calm the situation unless Israeli Arab leadership does its part.
Peaceful protests of genuine grievances are legitimate and protected by Israel’s democratic institutions. And continued and steady protest by peaceful means is the best way to advance Arab Israeli interests.
But in recent weeks we have witnessed a complete disregard for civility and orderly protest. Especially in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem but also in Kafr Kana, peaceful protest has been abandoned and replaced with throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and attacking security personnel and civilians. Demonstrators are not calling for social and economic equality, but to eliminate the State of Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. They are accusing the government, falsely, of trying to end Muslim control on the Temple Mount, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s near daily assurances that the status quo that prevents Jews from praying there will not be changed.
Tibi is one of many Arab MKs demanding the right of citizens to demonstrate. He has also, however, fanned the flames of discontent and the Arab rioters take a cue from those like him that it is legitimate to channel anger not into civil disobedience and protest, but into rock-throwing, rioting and assaults on security officials and symbols of the state. A rule of thumb: If you do not want to be shot by police, do not throw rocks or thrust knives in an act of frenzy.
There need to be responsible Arab voices channeling anger into meaningful and effective protest, accompanied on the Jewish side by a clear message that the killing of any citizen by the police is taken seriously.
Trust must be restored, rather than communal tensions exacerbated. An investigation will take place into the killing of Kheir al-Din Hamdan. Although the results are not likely to please those calling for general strikes and those throwing stones, this incident can serve as a starting point to encourage pragmatism and tolerance, reduce religious extremism, and illustrate that the law must apply to Jews and Arabs equally.