An Israeli Arab rammed his vehicle into a group of police officers on Wednesday, killing one of them before he was shot dead during clashes in southern Israel over a court-ordered operation to demolish illegally built homes, police said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a local man sped toward the forces deployed to the Umm al-Hiran village. He said further clashes ensued in which several policemen were wounded. Local residents say police used excessive force to remove protesters, including live fire, and Amnesty International called for a probe into reports of police brutality.
Rosenfeld identified the slain policeman as 34-year-old Erez Levi. The Israeli Arab was later identified as Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan. It was not immediately clear how old he was. His brother, Ahmad, said he was “murdered in cold blood.”
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List in the Israeli parliament, was wounded in the clashes, along with several others. Odeh was evacuated to a hospital with blood streaming down his forehead. It’s unclear whether he was wounded by the police or a stray rock thrown by protesters.
In a shaky voice, he told Israel’s Army Radio that he was shot by overzealous officers who were deployed after extensive negotiations to delay the demolition broke down.
“This is a direct order from (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu who wants to enflame the area,” he said. “This is a disgrace.”
Arabs make up a fifth of Israel’s population. They enjoy full citizenship but frequently face unfair treatment in areas like jobs and housing.
The Israeli government recently vowed to crack down harder on illegal Arab construction following criticism from Jewish West Bank settlers, who face a court-ordered evacuation of an illegally built outpost and who demanded the law be enforced equally.
Last week, authorities demolished 11 homes in the central city of Kalansua, sparking a general strike among Israeli Arabs, who say the problem stems from long-standing barriers to acquiring proper permits put in place by the state.
Wednesday’s evacuation involves a long-running dispute between Israel and the formerly nomadic Bedouin of the Umm Al-Hiran village. Israel moved part of a Bedouin clan to the state-owned land 60 years ago, but now wishes to relocate residents to a government-designated Bedouin township.
An adjacent part of the village slated for future demolition is zoned for a new development catering to religious Jewish families with ties to the West Bank settlement movement.
Arab-Israelis have risen to prominence in sports, politics, entertainment and the judiciary. But Jewish Israelis have long viewed the community with suspicion, as many of Israel’s Arabs closely identify with Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accused Odeh of stirring up the conflict lying about what actually happened. He said he hoped the incident would not spark further divisions between Jews and Arabs in Israel, but that if it happens lawmakers like Odeh bore responsibility.
“He was there to enflame tensions and incite to violence,” he told Army Radio. “He contributed to a very serious event that may also have criminal implications for him.”