Protests erupt over killing of Palestinian citizen of Israel during police shoot-out

Palestinian protesters in the town of Umm al-Fahm carry a placard saying 'We are killed while the police are laughing' (Twitter)

Lubna Masarwa & Mustafa Abu Sneineh

Middle East Eye  /  February 3, 2021

The death of Ahmed Hijazi, a 22-year-old nursing student, has reignited anger over Israel’s selective policing of Palestinian communities in the country.

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated in several towns on Tuesday evening in protest at the killing of a young man during an Israeli police shootout with masked gunmen in the village of Tamra a day earlier.

Palestinians, who make around 20 percent of Israel’s population, marched in thousands at the funeral of Ahmed Hijazi, 22, a nursing student, who was killed in Tamra in the north of the country on Monday evening.

Hijazi, a nursing student, was visiting his friend, 31-year-old doctor Muhammad Armoush, at the latter’s home in Tamra when armed clashes erupted between Israeli police and masked gunmen.

Hearing the shootout, Hijazi and Armoush went out. Hijazi was shot and killed, while Armoush was shot in the leg and then hospitalised in Haifa.

Protesters blocked the vital Road 70, which connects towns and villages in the north to the Israeli border with Lebanon, and Road 65, running from the coast to the east of the country.

Israeli police arrested several Palestinians and fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets on Tuesday evening in the Palestinian-majority city of Nazareth.

Other protests erupted in the Palestinian-majority villages of Umm al-Fahm, Tamra, Baqa al-Gharbiyye and al-Tira, Arab48 reported. 

Israeli police said that one of the gunmen, Mahmoud Hisham Yassin, was killed and another was injured on Monday night, adding that it had opened an investigation into Hijazi’s death.

Armoush, meanwhile, accused Israeli police of killing his friend.

“If a police officer in the state of Israel, which deals with criminals as part of his profession, does not know how to distinguish between a criminal and a person, this is not a mistake – it is negligence,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.

Haifa-based rights group Adalah condemned Hijazi’s killing, noting that even before Israeli police conclude its investigation, “Israel’s northern district police commander already declared on live TV that there was no operational mishap in the incident”.

“For too long, Israel has ignored the issue of internal violence within Arab communities and has not taken any measures to curb violence,” Adalah wrote, using the term commonly used in Israel to refer to the Palestinian community inside the country.

“The situation has become disastrous, leading to police invasions of Tamra – this most recent of which turned deadly.”

Israeli police inaction

Yousef Jabareen, a Knesset member of the Arab Joint List, told Middle East Eye that crime has been on the rise in Palestinian towns inside Israel, while police and Israeli security agencies remain idle.

“This incident shows that Israeli police treat us as enemies and that Arab blood is easy to shed, according to the police’s racist policies for decades,” Jabareen said.

He added that Hijazi’s death came as Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bidding for votes from Palestinian voters in the upcoming legislative election in March.

“But we can’t forget that violence and crime in Arab towns increased during Netanyahu’s successive governments… Our community know who the right-wing racist Netanyahu is, and they will leave him disappointed in the upcoming election,” Jabareen told MEE.

Less than a day after Hijazi was shot, local news reported that a woman in her 40s was shot on Tuesday in the village of Majd al-Kurum by unidentified gunmen, sustaining moderate injuries. 

In 2019, 91 Palestinians citizens of Israel were killed during a crime or violent incident, while 47 Jewish-Israelis were killed in similar acts, according to newspaper Haaretz.

Mohammed Abu Saleh, a nurse from the town of Sakhnin, told MEE that Israeli authorities deliberately followed a policy of inaction regarding illegal weapons and firearms in the hands of gangs operating in Palestinian villages inside Israel, spreading violence and causing the deaths of innocent residents.

“Fifteen years ago, we did not experience crime and violence like today, despite the small number of Israeli police stations [in Palestinian-majority areas)]” he said. “But today, there are more police stations and more crime in the Arab villages.”

In October 2019, the Palestinian community inside Israel launched a mass car convoy driving slowly on one of country’s busiest highways, bringing it to a near standstill, in protest against Israeli police inaction over the spread of weapons in the hands of gangs.

For Adalah, the selective use of law enforcement in Israel’s Palestinian community is symptomatic of the status this population has in the eyes of the state.

“A residential neighbourhood was turned into a battlefield and police gunfire once again harmed innocent Palestinian citizens, but Israeli police commander Shimon Lavi immediately heaped praise upon his officers,” the organisation wrote.

“This is what it looks like when Israel’s police force routinely treats Palestinian citizens as an enemy and whitewashes its deadly actions.”

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Mustafa Abu Sneineh is a journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye