Police Conduct Toward Protesters in Umm al-Fahm
On February 28, two days after a protest held by Palestinian citizens in Umm al Fahm was violently dispersed, we contacted the Chief of Police concerning police conduct toward the protesters. Based on the footage that we reviewed and the testimonies we gathered, it is clear that police acted with extreme and excessive violence – using stun grenades, water, and skunk cannons against entirely nonviolent protesters, in complete contradiction to their own policing protocols. The police’s conduct caused an unjustified escalation and led to many injuries, including the Mayor of Umm al Fahm, Dr. Mahamid Samir, and Member of Knesset Dr. Yousef Jabareen.
In our letter, Sivan Tahel, Field Coordinator and Freedom of Protest Director, and Attorney Anne Suciu, demanded an immediate investigation into the incident and swift disciplinary action against those responsible – particularly those who gave the orders and the officers in the area who enforced them. The appeal posited that:
"The quasi-militaristic preparation of police officers who arrived in the area already armed with an extensive arsenal of crowd-dispersal methods, reveals the police’s hostile and unacceptable relations toward Arab protesters. This means of preparation, along with the massive use of sponge-tipped bullets, stun grenades, and a range of other means of crowd-dispersal, is drastically distinct from how police engage with protesters from other communities and indicates a dire failure in police conduct."
The letter continues:
"It is clear from the sequence of incidents that this was not an officer or two deviating from their protocols, or the illegal conduct of a handful of cops, but rather an example of orders from higher up the chain of command that escalated the situation and led to many protesters being injured. Sadly, this makes it all too clear that the conclusions of the Or Commission [the government’s Official Commission of Inquiry into the events of October 2000, in which 13 Palestinians living in Israel were killed by police during demonstrations] have still not been internalized: ‘The police must instill in their officers the understanding that the Arab public is not their enemy, and they must not behave as though it were."