40 Hurt in Riots Over Arrests in Galilee Village of Peki'in

A Jewish home was torched and 40 people were hurt in a riot over a new cellular phone tower near the Galilee Druze village of Peki'in.

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Hana Levi Julian,

The hills of Galilee
The hills of Galilee

The serenity of a typical Galilee morning returned to the village of Peki'in by midday after rioters tore through the streets late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. The disturbances were sparked by entry of police into the village prayer house in an attempt to arrest suspected vandals of a cell phone tower.

Druze leaders who later met in an emergency session voted to ask the government to appoint a commission of inquiry into the incident. They also demand that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issue a formal apology for police having entered the community's prayer house. The tenets and practices of the Druze faith are considered secret.

At least 40 people were wounded in the riots, including more than two dozen police officers, three MDA medics, and some 10 residents.  The small village is home to a majority of Druze residents, a minority of Greek Orthodox Arabs, a handful of Muslim Arabs, and a few Jews.

The melee began when police entered the village to arrest suspects who were believed to have vandalized the tower erected in nearby Peki'in HaChadasha (New Pekiin), a Jewish agricultural moshav located some five kilometers north of Pekiin.

A Jewish home in the village was torched during the uproar, but its residents were not there at the time. No one was injured.

One police officer was seriously wounded in his head, and one rioter was seriously wounded by gunfire. Six other people were moderately wounded. All the wounded were taken to Nahariya Hospital.

Magen David Adom medics came under attack when they tried to evacuate the wounded. Rioters smashed the windshields of two ambulances.

MDA ambulance damaged by rioters
(Photo: MDA)

One female Border Police officer was originally reported to have sought shelter in the home of a retired police officer who lived in the town. Officials later said that she had been held hostage, although it was unclear whether she was being trapped by someone in the home or by the surrounding mob. Police released five rioters from custody in exchange for the officer. No further information about the incident has been available.

Peki'in is believed to be the site of an ancient Western Galilee town where the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hid in a cave while escaping from the Romans during the Second Temple period. It was in that cave in ancient Peki'in that, according to tradition, the two sages composed the mystical Jewish tome, the Zohar.

Ezra HaLevi contributed to this story.