Two people killed in clashes at Israeli Bedouin village
Protests against operation to demolish illegally built structures turn violent
The head of Israel’s Arab parliamentary bloc Ayman Odeh clashes with Israeli policemen after he was injured during clashes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday. Photograph: Keren Manor/AFP/Getty
A police officer and an Israeli Bedouin were killed when fierce clashes erupted during an operation to demolish illegally built structures in a Bedouin village in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
Israeli Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List, sustained head wounds after being hit by a rubber bullet and was evacuated to hospital for treatment.
Immediately after the incident a general strike was declared in Arab communities in southern Israel and protest marches were planned in Arab towns throughout the country ahead of a general strike on Thursday, raising fears that unrest would spread.
While violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the West Bank is common, fatal clashes involving Israeli Arabs are rare, although tensions over home demolitions are never far from the surface.
Hundreds of heavily armed police arrived at the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the early hours of Wednesday morning to implement a court ruling to demolish 10 homes in the village that had been built illegally.
The police claim that they opened fire after a villager drove his car at high speed into a group of officers, killing one and wounding another, as a large crowd resisted the planned demolitions. The driver, a local teacher and a member of the Islamic Movement, was killed.
However, relatives and villagers claimed the man lost control of his vehicle after being shot by police, who they claimed used excessive violence from the start of the operation.
Police sources said they are looking into potential ties between the driver and Islamic State, hinting that the incident may have been a copy-cat attack after the recent truck ramming in Jerusalem in which four women soldiers were killed. Police said after raiding the man’s house they found Israeli newspapers with headlines about Islamic State, though his family denied any links with militant groups.
About 1,000 people live in the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran, which lies south of the West Bank, but the court has upheld demolition orders to make way for the building of the new Jewish town of Hiran.
A few months ago, after the court ordered the demolition of the illegal Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said demolitions of illegally built structures would also be stepped up in the Arab sector.
Mr Netanyahu accused Arab Knesset members of stirring up tension.
“Not only does this incident not intimidate us, it strengthens us, it strengthens our determination to enforce the law everywhere,” he said. “I request of everyone, first and foremost Knesset members in the Israeli parliament, to act responsibly, to stop fanning the flames and stop inciting violence.”
Mohammed Baraka, chairman of the Israeli Arab Follow-Up Committee umbrella group, accused Mr Netanyahu of fanning the flames to divert attention from corruption allegations currently being investigated by police.
“I warn Netanyahu not to lead to more bloodshed and total destruction,” he said.