Palestinians take to the streets in Umm al-Fahm to protest Israeli police

A banner hung in Umm al-Fahm by Al-Herak that reads, ‘I will not wait until my son will be the next one' (Yoav Haifawi)

Yoav Haifawi

 Mondoweiss  /  March 5, 2021

On Friday March 5, between 10,000-20,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel marched in Umm al-Fahm against police abuse and neglect, as months of violence reached a boiling point.

The combined problem of a hostile racist government and the growing prevalence of organized crime are haunting the Palestinian Arab society within the green line. The lack of personal security is multiplied by the feeling that there is no one to turn to for protection when your life is in danger. In the last few years there have been many struggles against organized crime and against the Israeli police giving free hand to the criminal gangs to terrorize the Arab population, while at the same time the police acts with excessive violence against people who are struggling for their rights or even against ordinary Arab citizens.

On Friday March 5, I took part in one of the biggest demonstrations of this kind. It was held in Umm al-Fahm, the main Palestinian town in the northern Triangle area. The protest was a high point in a long struggle of the people of the region, led by “Al-Herak al-Fahmawi al-Muwahad” – “The United Fahmawi Movement”. This movement started following the regular occurrence of violence from armed gangs against local citizens as well as the murder attempt against Dr. Suleiman Aghbaria, a former mayor and one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement, in January 2021. 

In those areas that were occupied by Israel in 1948, Palestinians are officially citizens of Israel but the state still relates to them as “internal enemy”. Many of these Palestinian citizens of Israel, wanting to stress their Palestinian identity in parallel to their brothers in the 1967 occupied territory, identify themselves as 1948 Palestinians.

Last Friday, on February 26, Herak demonstrators tried to block Umm al-Fahm’s main road and were violently attacked by the police. One was dangerously wounded. The city’s mayor Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahamid and Knesset member Dr. Yousef Jabareen (also Fahmawi), both of whom were trying to cool down the confrontation, were physically attacked by the police in front of the cameras. Four of the demonstrators were arrested. As a response, “The High Follow-Up Committee”, the united leadership of the 1948 Palestinians, gathered in Umm al-Fahm and declared a national demonstration for this Friday. 

Hours before the demonstration was scheduled to begin, the police already closed the main highway leading to Umm al-Fahm, several kilometers away, on both sides. We, like thousands of others that were coming from out of town, had to make our way on unmapped mountain roads through neighbouring townships. When the crowd, that was estimated to be between 10,000 – 20,000, finally marched to the main street it was already closed and deserted. Palestinian and black flags were hung on the traffic lights and the masses freely poured into the central junction, the same junction from which they were chased violently the past week.

Al-Herak

Officially the demonstration was called by the Follow-Up Committee, which is composed of all the ‘48-Palestinian’ parties and movements. But on the ground, it was clear that the demonstration was organized and led by Al-Herak.

On a central wall in the first circle of the town, in front of the municipality, a big billboard signed by Herak awaited the demonstrators. It declared “I will not wait until my son will be the next one … Umm al-Fahm started on the road”. It added a short cry in English and Hebrew: “Who’s next?” Herak activists with specially printed yellow vests took control of the streets, turned away traffic and organized everything, including distributing water and halvah to the demonstrators.

The role of women in the demonstration was very significant. Many of them marched in a special block, but most sections of the demonstration were mixed. Women carried Palestinian flags, led and chanted slogans and closed streets.

Al-Herak distributed to the participants a special, elegantly edited, 8-page pamphlet explaining the background for the struggle. Its title was “The Police is The Problem”. It started with the demonstrations of the second intifada in the year 2000 and the killing of three demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm by police fire. It related these killings to the colonialist approach of the Israeli government toward Arab Palestinian citizens and the government’s “justification” that internal violence is part of “the Arab culture”. The pamphlet went on to contrast the prevalence of violent organized crime in ‘48 Palestine to the relatively lower level of internal violence in the West Bank society, and show in graphs, statistics, and details of police activities, how the police systematically fail, or, rather, doesn’t even try, to defend Arab crime victims.

The Herak’s pamphlet ends with a slogan that was also repeated many times in the demonstration: “Revolutionaries, free people, we will march on”.

Internal political conflict

The demonstration was held two and a half weeks before the Knesset elections – the fourth election within two years. This time there is very little interest in Palestinian society in the elections. The reasons for this lack of interest stems from dual disappointments: On one side, the Israeli society looks like it is becoming ever more right-wing and anti-Palestinian, and almost nobody has an illusion that anything good can come from another elections. On the other side, the traditional Palestinian leadership that participates in the Knesset elections disappointed their voters first by supporting Benny Gantz to head the Israeli government (and getting nothing for it) and then by splitting “The Joint List”.

Near the entrance to Umm al-Fahm, the junction that was flooded with demonstrators, stands a big board with a green election advertisement. It said: “The United Arab List – A realistic, influential and conservative voice”. The “united” list is the conservative alternative to the “Joint” list – led by Knesset member Dr. Mansour Abbas from the “Southern” (legal) branch of the Islamic Movement. Its slogans about “realism” and “influence” are understood as pointing to the groups readiness to support Netanyahu, in his effort to remain in government spite of his indictment for corruption, in return for some material benefits. The reference to “conservative” might imply the attempt to use homophobic prejudice to discredit the other, relatively progressive, Arab parties.

In the demonstration, Dr. Abbas’s “realistic” politics were not welcomed. He was surrounded by angry demonstrators that called on him to go home. Activists from the Herak and other parties helped to drag him out safely in order to prevent further embarrassment.

Yoav Haifawi is an anti-Zionist activist