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After Tel Aviv attack, Israel's Palestinians tarred as "criminals"

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Reprinted from Middle East Eye

Netanyahu slammed for exploiting killings in Tel Aviv to vilify entire Palestinian community in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on New Year's Day to intensify a campaign of incitement against the country's large minority of Palestinian citizens.

Palestinian leaders in Israel have also harshly criticized the police for making sweeping arrests of Nashat Melhem's relatives in what they believe is an attempt to pressure him into turning himself in.

Melhem, aged 29, is reported to have been on the run since two Israeli Jews were gunned down in a bar in central Tel Aviv last Friday. He is also suspected of killing a taxi driver -- like Melhem, a member of Israel's Palestinian minority -- during his getaway.

The motive for the attacks is not yet known.

Netanyahu made a speech the day after the attack in which he implied that many of Israel's 1.6 million Palestinian citizens, one in five of the population, were either complicit in, or approved of, the killings.

"Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way," he said at a candle-lighting ceremony at the scene of the two deaths. "I will not accept two states within Israel -- a state of law for most citizens and a state within a state with Islamist incitement and illegal arms."

Calling on Muslim citizens to follow a path of peace rather than hatred, he said: "We all know that there is wild incitement of radical Islam against the state of Israel within the Muslim sector."

Arab MPs, he demanded, had to condemn the attack "without hesitation or rhetorical phrasing."

As part of the manhunt, police raided lodgings in Tel Aviv housing Arab students, apparently without search warrants. In some cases, the doors were broken down, officers entered with weapons drawn, and rooms were ransacked.

Concerns have been raised about whether Tel Aviv university handed over students' information to enable racial profiling by the police.

"Collective punishment"

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab-dominated Joint List, the third largest party in the Israeli parliament, told Middle East Eye that Netanyahu had "incited against an entire public, portraying the Arab population as criminals."

He added that the arrest of Melhem's father and brother, lengthy interrogations of his mother and sister, and the raids on student homes were all forms of "collective punishment" by the police.

"I cannot remember any case in which a Jew has committed a crime, however severe, and family members were arrested as a means of pressuring the suspect," he said.

"The price should be paid by the criminal, not his near or distant relations, and certainly not the entire Arab public."

Melhem is suspected of shooting dead Alon Bakal, manager of the Simta bar in Tel Aviv, and customer Shimon Ruimi, as well as injuring several others, on Friday 1 January. The body of a taxi driver, Amin Shaaban, was found in a suburb of northern Tel Aviv a short time later.

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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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