Peki'in Aftermath: Jewish Hostage and Arson Victim Speak

As calls for an inquiry and the firing of the police chief are made, the officer held hostage and rabbi who had his home torched in Peki’in speak.

Ezra HaLevi,

Druze leaders
Druze leaders

As calls for a committee of inquiry and the firing of the Galilee police chief are made, the Jewish female officer held hostage by Druze rioters and a rabbi who had his home torched in the Druze-Jewish village of Peki’in tell their stories.

Border police officer Liat Duadi described her experience during Tuesday's riots in the Druze-Jewish village of Peki’in as “a nightmare.” The 19-year-old officer was separated from her fellow policemen and dragged 20 meters on the ground by masked assailants, she said.  An angry mob beat and kicked her all over her body.

Duadi is certain she could have been killed, as some of the attackers tried to stab her in the chest and stomach but failed due to her bulletproof flak jacket. “I saw murder in their eyes,” she told Maariv newspaper. She did suffer a stab wound to the thigh before she managed to run away from the mob.

Duadi says she would have been caught again but for a retired Druze police commander who brought her to the local prayer house. She knew she was a hostage, however, with or without his complicity, as the mob yelled: “You won’t get out of here alive until we get what we want.”

A police officer who tried to rescue Duadi was badly wounded and medics who tried to evacuate him were also attacked and injured by the Druze mob.

Though the retired Druze officer made sure she was not harmed, she was not released until the police agreed to the demands of the mob. Police released at least six rioters and Duadi herself told Yediot Acharonot that “it is no secret that I was not released for free – they received everything they demanded.”

Police confirmed that six rioters were released from custody during negotiations for the officer’s release.

Even as she was being driven back to join her fellow officers, rioters broke the windows of the vehicle she was in, covering her with glass and giving her further lacerations.

Another account of the Arab violence was published on Ynet, then abruptly removed.

Rabbi’s Home Burned to the Ground
Rabbi Aviv Ziegelman, who heads a core-group of Jewish residents living in the ancient mixed Jewish-Druze town, had his home burned down during the riots.

He and his family were unharmed, but all their possessions were burned by the rioters. Despite the attack, he says Jews will continue to live in the western Galilee town. The ancient city was the location 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.

Aftermath of the Riots
At the end of the day Tuesday, 16 police officers were still hospitalized as well as a dozen residents and medics. One Druze rioter was in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the stomach, and a police officer was in serious condition with a head wound caused by a rock.

The hours of violent clashes began when more than 100 police officers entered Peki’in at 4 AM to make arrests following the destruction of a cell phone tower. The wanted men had used firebombs and a hand-grenade to destroy the tower, erected in the nearby Jewish town of New Peki’in.

Calls For Investigation, Apology
Police say they did not expect such violent resistance and opened fire when their lives were in danger, in accordance with universal police regulations. "The police came under a barrage of rocks, boulders and metal bars thrown by masked youths," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told reporters. "Our officers were in a life-threatening situation and it was necessary for one to open fire with live ammunition to get out of the situation."

Druze Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee (Kadima) criticized the police, asking, "Would they send in such a large armed force, like an army operation, to arrest someone in Tel Aviv?”

Former Commander Defends Police
Former police commander Alik Ron, who commanded the Galilee police during the Israeli-Arab riots of October 2000, spoke with Maariv, saying it is far too early to criticize the police. “When a deputy minister [MK Whabee –ed.] calls for the dismissal of the regional commander, I would advise that he drink some cold water and calm down,” Ron said. He also criticized retired officers “who were not there” that offered criticism in media interviews.

Ron praised the police decision to enter Peki’in in order to carry out arrests. “One of the worst outcomes the police suffered from the recommendations of the Orr Commission [which investigated the police response to the October 2000 riots –ed.] was that it led to weakness and cowardliness in the force. Many commanders were afraid to go out into the field because it is dangerous – better not to run to the front. I do not accept this approach, and therefore I salute the northern region commander who did not surrender to others’ conclusions from the report and, when needed, ran to the front.”

Ron rejected claims that the police went in with too large a force, causing the clashes. "If they would have gone in with a single police cruiser, it would have been torched, maybe with the people inside and everybody would be saying 'How could you go in with such a small force? Where were the other forces?' The fact that there were almost 30 wounded police and a kidnapped officer speak for themselves."

Police Chief Dudy Cohen met with Druze leaders and promised to launch an inquiry into the events. Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Tuesday that although claims of police misconduct would be investigated, "Anyone who lifted a finger against policemen will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”

Police say the vandals whom they failed to arrest, as well as the rioters who were released in exchange for Duadi will also be arrested once tensions calm down.