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Israeli Police 'turning a blind eye to killing spree'

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Last year a leading Palestinian community activist, Jafar Farah, was arrested along with 20 others during a peaceful protest in the city of Haifa against the army's lethal shooting of demonstrators in Gaza. While in custody, a police officer broke his leg and is reported to have assaulted several other demonstrators.

But etched even more deeply into the Palestinian minority's collective memory are the so-called October 2000 events, when Palestinian citizens demonstrated on main roads in solidarity with Palestinians being killed by the Israeli army in large numbers at the start of the second intifada.

In a matter of days, the police had killed 13 Palestinian citizens and wounded many hundreds more using live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets. Investigations were cursory and not one policeman was charged over those deaths.

Demand for equal treatment

This time Palestinian leaders in Israel trust the police will have to tread more carefully.

At a protest outside Nazareth last Friday, hundreds of protesters blocked a road junction leading to the neighbouring Jewish city of Nof Hagalil. Furious motorists, caught in lengthy tailbacks, honked their horns in frustration.

A single policeman watched from inside an unmarked car at the side of the intersection. When spotted, he emerged to warn the demonstrators that they would be allowed an hour to cause disruption before his colleagues would arrive to make arrests.

Unusually, given the large number of such protests last weekend, not a single arrest or injury was reported.

The police caution is a reflection of their difficulties. The demonstrations are not overtly "political" or not in the ordinary sense understood by the Jewish public because they do not relate to issues in the occupied territories.

The chief demand is for a right to personal security and the police themselves are the focus of the protests.

For years, Palestinian leaders in Israel have been calling for a new approach by the authorities to help end the violence, including enforcement campaigns, the collection of guns, and education programmes to change attitudes to crime.

"Our demands fell on deaf ears," Odeh, head of the Joint List, wrote in his Haaretz article. He and other community leaders hope to prick the consciences of liberal Israeli Jews.

The question is whether the protests, which have been causing major disruption, rebound on the government for appearing intransigent or the Palestinian minority for inconveniencing the Jewish public.

More police stations

There are initial signs that the police and government are starting to feel the heat.

Erdan called for a meeting with the minority's leaders this week to try to ease tensions. Netanyahu also pledged to allocate extra resources, including manpower, to tackle the crime wave.

But there are complex obstacles for both sides to resolve the stand-off.

Some of the placards at the Nazareth protest called not for more engagement by the police but less. There are genuine fears that Netanyahu's idea of "greater enforcement" will simply mean more heavy-handed and provocative police invasions of Palestinian communities in Israel to create an impression that something is being done.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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