This Isn’t About Jafar

25 May 2018

I know Jafar Farah. I’ve known him for years. He’s a fierce advocate for meaningful equality for all Israelis. He’s also a leader of his community, Palestinian citizens of Israel.

It was a shock to hear the news reports on Friday about his arrest at a political protest, to watch the footage captured by a television reporter in which Jafar is calmly walking and talking while being led to a police car in handcuffs, and then to learn that the police later sent him to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken knee.

The police deny that they arrested him without cause. The police deny that they beat him. And the police deny that they used excessive force on the other Israelis who were out that night in Haifa protesting.

The police in Israel have a credibility problem.

The lived experience of so many Israelis who take part in political protests — peace activists, Ethiopian-Israelis, refugees, and even settlers — is that the police can and do act with brutal force to shut down political speech.

And so, while it is upsetting, it is not terribly surprising to learn that the police are accused of using excessive force when it comes to a crowd of protesters comprised largely of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

There is a history here of both police negligence in terms of caring for the needs of Arab towns within Israel and of violence by the police:

In October of 2000, Israeli police killed 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel during demonstrations. An official government Commission of Inquiry headed by Theodore Or, an Israeli High Court Justice, looked into these events and found that the police used excessive force.

It was just 16 months ago that police shot Yakub Musa Abu al-Qian as he was leaving the site of a home demolition at Umm al-Hiran. He then bled to death without receiving medical attention. At the time, police spokespeople claimed that Abu al-Qian was a terrorist, but an investigation into the matter by the State Attorney’s Office was unable to substantiate that assertion.

The leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, was injured by a rubber bullet fired at Umm al-Hiran. And, when he went to visit Jafar at the hospital this weekend, the police ignored his parliamentary immunity and refused to let him in. Rather than apologize for the oversight, Israel’s Public Security Minister is seeking to bring charges against Odeh for insulting the police officers.

This is the ugly reality of the relationship between Israel’s police and the citizens of Israel who happen to also be Palestinians.

Yes, the Israeli police have a credibility problem. They’ve been raked over the coals by the media for their nonsensical explanations for Jafar’s broken knee. And more and more Israelis are coming to understand the nature of the problem. As you’ll read in this edition of NIF News, Israeli civil society groups representing a range of causes and constituencies came together to speak out against the brutality that Jafar experienced.

It took only one hearing for the judge to order Jafar and all of the others arrested at Friday’s demonstration to be released from jail.

When violence spikes between Israel and the Palestinians, it also reverberates within Israeli society. It can tear at the fibers that connect Israelis to one another. My hope is that this incident — the story of what happened to Jafar — will end up as a teachable moment that unites Israelis to take on the problem of police brutality and to stand together for the freedom to protest.