A Killing in the Negev

20 January 2015

After police action turned deadly last week in the Negev Bedouin city of Rahat, SHATIL immediately worked to calm the atmosphere and encourage regional solidarity. Following SHATIL’s suggestion for intervention, President Reuven Rivlin called Rahat Mayor Talal El Krenawi and issued a statement to the press:

“It is our duty to address the painful wounds of the Bedouin community,” Rivlin told the mayor. He expressed his condolences to the families of the two men who died and to the Bedouin community as a whole, as well as his hopes that the wounded would quickly recover.

According to local sources, on the night of Wednesday, January 14th, police shot 20-year-old bystander Sami Al-Ja’ar during a violent raid on a suspected drug location in Rahat.

Muslim funerals, like their Jewish counterparts, are held very quickly after a death. The funeral was attended by over 8,000 people, this past Sunday.

What happened next – and why – isn’t yet totally clear. But what is clear is that the events are leading to worsening tensions between the police and Bedouin community.

According to one mourner, an armored police car drove down a closed road into the crowd despite an agreement with the Rahat municipality that there would be no police presence. Shatil Negev organizer Amir Abu Kweder described the move as provocative. Police officials, however, said that an officer accidentally drove towards the funeral and was then pelted with stones when trying to leave. According to police statements, in order to get the officers, who were in danger of their lives, out, reinforcements had to use crowd dispersal measures.

The incident resulted in twenty-two people wounded, including two police officers. One mourner, Sammi Aziadna, died from smoke inhalation.

The Arab Higher Monitoring committee called on the Arab population throughout the country to strike in protest. Demonstrations, some violent, also took place, with four men arrested Monday in Rahat. There has been very little media coverage in Israel of the developments.

“These events do not come out of thin air,” Abu Kweder said. “In recent years we have witnessed a dramatic increase in police violence directed at Arabs in general and Arab residents of the Negev in particular.”

As the situation escalated, Shatil Director Ronit Heyd contacted Rivlin’s office and he responded quickly, calling the mayor and issuing a public statement.

“We wanted to make heard voices that would calm the situation,” said Heyd. “And to ensure that media coverage would go beyond reporting violence and address the importance of maintaining inter-group relations and the values of a shared society.”

In that spirit, Shatil approached the newly established Negev Council to issue a statement and continues to make a concerted effort to sound a different voice in the Negev demanding tolerance and moderation from both sides.

Photo Credit: Israeli Police car by Flickr user Parham S