Jewish peace groups have accused the Israeli police
of fueling racism by canceling a "Jewish Pride" march by a far-right
group that was to have taken place through one of the largest Arab towns in
The police postponed the march, due last Monday, claiming they had evidence
extremist residents of Umm al Fahm in northern Israel would open fire on the
marchers and police.
"There was a real danger that lives could be lost," said a police
spokesman, adding that the decision to ban the march would be reassessed in
But local Arab leaders and Jewish peace activists claimed the police concocted
the story to justify the cancellation of the march. Thousands of Jews had planned
to form a human chain with the residents of Umm al Fahm at the entrance to the
town to block the way of the Jewish National Front.
Adam Keller, of the peace group Gush Shalom, said the planned show of solidarity
would have been nonviolent. He denounced the police for exploiting the stereotype
of violent Arab citizens promoted by the marchers, many of whom are hardline
settlers in the West Bank.
"It is a supreme irony that we had organized for thousands of Arabs and
Jews to prove we can live here as citizens in harmony," he said. "Then
the police cancel the march but use the false pretext that the marchers are
in danger rather than that they seek to inflame violence."
Claims by the police that Arab residents would shoot at the marchers were derided
by Jewish and Arab organizations.
Jafar Farah, of the Mossawa parliamentary lobbying group, pointed out that
the northern police force had used a similar excuse – that Arab demonstrators
were armed – in Oct 2000, at the start of the intifada, to justify its use of
live ammunition against protests in Arab communities.
A later state inquiry examining the deaths of 13 Arab demonstrators at the
hands of the police found that they were unarmed. The inquiry concluded that
the institutional view of the police was that Israel's 1.2 million-strong Arab
population should be treated as "an enemy" rather than as citizens.
"The lessons from that inquiry have still not been learnt," Mr Farah
said. "There is still a culture of hatred in the police force as well as
a culture of incitement. In their different way, the police want to delegitimize
the country's Arab minority just as much as the marchers."
The Jewish National Front is widely seen as a reinvention of the Kach movement,
a Jewish terror organization demanding the expulsion of Palestinians from both
Israel and the West Bank. The movement was outlawed in the 1990s.
Kach tried to stage a march to Umm al Fahm in 1984 but was repulsed when Jews
and Arabs turned out on a large scale.
The police opposed the new march from the outset, saying it believed that confrontations
between the marchers and local residents might provoke riots across the north,
especially in the wake of violence between Jews and Arabs in Acre in October.
The Supreme Court overruled the police, agreeing with the Front that their
right to free expression was being curtailed.
Mr Keller said he believed the police had opposed the march because of the
exorbitant cost of bringing thousands of police officers to the town.
"They needed an excuse to prevent the march but one that would be acceptable
to the Jewish public and which would not look like they were ignoring the court's
ruling. They resorted to the easiest – and most dangerous – pretext available:
that Umm al Fahm is a hotbed of terror."
Itamar Ben Gvir, a Front leader and settler involved in the recent clashes
with the Israeli army over the evacuation of a settler-occupied Palestinian
house in Hebron, called the police decision "a disgrace to the rule of
law." He added: "Today the police have proved once and for all that
they do not control Umm al Fahm."
Shuli Dichter, the head of the Sikkuy coexistence group and a resident of a
kibbutz near Umm al Fahm, called that suggestion "nonsense."
"At the weekend we organized tours for hundreds of Jews to Umm al Fahm.
They shopped and visited attractions without any trouble whatsoever. We proved
that Jews are welcome in Umm al Fahm and that the violence comes only from the
Raja Aghbariyya, the head of Islamic Youth Movement in Umm al Fahm, expressed
a view widely shared in the town: "We welcome anyone who comes to visit
the city, but not according to the relationship of slave and master."
Mr Dichter said the police decision had disappointed him. "I would have
preferred to see this march stopped by the opposition of an aware public rather
than by the police."
He said the large turnout of Jewish groups had been possible because of a framework
of cooperation between Jews and Arabs created in the wake of the 13 deaths in
That included a forum jointly headed by the Arab mayor of Umm al Fahm, Sheikh
Hashem Abd al Rahman, and the Jewish mayor of the Menashe Regional Council,
Ilan Sadeh. Mr Sadeh, who had assisted in plans to oppose the Front, described
the march as an attempt "to sow chaos in the area."
This article originally appeared in The
National, published in Abu Dhabi.