Deputy Police Chief Wounded in Umm el-Fahm Riots
Deputy Chief of Israel Police, Shachar Ayalon, was wounded Tuesday morning by a rock hurled at his head during a brief march by Jewish activists on the outskirts of the Arab city of Umm el-Fahm, located several miles east of the northern Mediterranean Coast.
The deputy chief was pelted with rocks by a crowd of Arab protestors who rioted when they failed to block the planned 500-meter march led by Jewish National Front activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir. Fifteen other policemen also were injured by Arabs during the march.
Ten Arabs were arrested, including several in a crowd of 250 rioters who hurled rocks at police officers deployed to protect the Jewish nationalist activists. Meretz Knesset Member Ilan Ghilon, who joined the Arab protestors, was lightly injured in the head by a police tear gas grenade.
The permit allowing the march authorized only a handful of Jews -- 100 people -- to participate. For each marcher, there were 25 police officers deployed in a failed attempt to prevent violence.
Some 2,500 Israel Police officers were deployed in and around the city to protect the lives of Marzel, Ben-Gvir and their small group of activists who said they were determined to carry the Israeli flag through the Israeli Arab city. The parade route was specifically mapped out along side streets on the outskirts of Umm el-Fahm in an attempt to minimize disturbances, but it was clear that residents, led by the mayor himself, were equally determined to make the march a point of contention over who can march in the city.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (Ichud Leumi-National Union) also joined the group. His mentor, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, led a march into Umm El-Fahm in 1984, which managed to make a small advance into the town but encountered a mass of rock-throwing Arabs and eventually had to retreat.
Marchers Unarmed, Refute Charges of 'Provocation'
Ben-Ari said that the only weapon brought to the march by the group of Jewish nationalists was the flag of Israel.
The marchers were told to hand their weapons over to police when they arrived in the Wadi Ara region before they were transferred to bullet-proof vehicles to bring them to Umm el-Fahm.
"There are hostile elements who claim that the State of Israel is a provocation," MK Ben-Ari told one reporter. "They say that every nationalist issue is a provocation. But all we are doing is waving the Israeli flag. We're only demanding loyalty to the State and that the police can move freely and enforce the law."
Police meanwhile banned the gathering of Arab protesters to the march at the Umm el-Fahm Junction at the main highway between the Coastal Highway and Beit She'an.
The High Court several months ago rejected Arab and Jewish leftists' attempt to forbid the march, and Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, "The High Court decision is final. Police will do what’s necessary to enable the march.”
Marzel, leader of the Jewish National Front faction, told Arutz 7 en route to the city that he expected the march to run peacefully as planned. Colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir called the event an historic one, saying it was a test both for the state and for the media covering the march.
City Officials Led the Fight
When the event was first announced in December, threats of violence prompted police to postpone the march. However, the Supreme Court informed the police they were bound to protect the activists and uphold their freedom of speech and the right to express their views in any town in the State of Israel.
The town’s mayor, Sheikh Khaled Hamadan, had vowed to prevent Marzel and Ben-Gvir from leading such a march through his town, right up to the moment it began.
Hamadan said he intended to lead a non-violent effort to block Marzel’s march “with our bodies” if necessary to ensure the activists are kept from the town. He commented Monday, however that the streets of Umm el-Fahm “are boiling.”
A general strike was declared throughout the city to protest the Israeli nationalist march.
Election Day Violence Successfully Overrode Legal Decision
On February 10, the day of national elections, Marzel was successfully prevented from fulfilling his role as polling station chairman in the Arab city after police were warned of threats to the activist’s life.
When Marzel’s Ichud Leumi party sent MK Aryeh Eldad to replace him at the polling station, he fared little better, and was escorted from the site a scant hour later to the accompaniment of rock attacks by city residents as his car left the area.
Votes cast at the polling station were nonetheless not disqualified.