Ma’an News Agency | – –
ARARA (Ma’an) — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday in the town of Arara in northern Israel, in the wake of a demolition campaign in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday, when Israeli police shot local math teacher Yacoub Abu al-Qian to death under widely-contested circumstances.
Protesters caused traffic jams and briefly blocked Highway 65 in the Wadi Ara region, with Israeli police suppressing the crowds with stun grenades and other protest dispersal means, according to reports.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List coalition that represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Israeli Knesset told reporters in Arara that the rally was held “to show loyalty to the martyr Abu al-Qian,” and to voice condemnation of racism and the killing Palestinian citizens.
While Israeli police have claimed Abu al-Qian was carrying out a vehicle attack when he was killed, numerous eyewitnesses testimonies and investigations from Israeli media and NGOs have said that police opened fire on the man while he was driving normally near the clashes posing no threat to anyone, which caused him to accelerate and lose control of the vehicle, resulting in the death of an Israeli policeman and the injury of several others.
Hours later, Israeli authorities carried out the demolition of more than dozen structures belonging to Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel, including a number of structures that were owned by Abu al-Qian.
The demolition campaign came a week after at least 10 Palestinian homes were razed to the ground in the city of Qalansawe in central Israel.
Odeh called for an investigation to be opened into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Israeli police “for their decision to stop negotiations with the people of Umm al-Hiran and for all the events that occurred at the evacuation,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.
He said he held police responsible for the killing and demanded that Abi al-Qian’s body be returned to the family immediately, as numerous preconditions have been set by Israeli authorities for the body’s release.
“Minister Gilad Erdan, who did not miss one chance to stand before a microphone and lie on Wednesday, while inciting and igniting the flames, should resign immediately,” Odeh reportedly said.
Odeh, who had traveled to Umm al-Hiran Wednesday along with a number of other members of the Joint List to protest the demolitions, was shot in the head by police with a sponge-tipped bullet amid the clashes.
He also released a video on his Facebook page Saturday ahead of the rally in Arara, where he is shown with bandage on his forehead covering the gunshot wound.
“We know that there are 50,000 houses without licenses as a result of Israel’s planning policies,” he said in the video.
“This means demolitions will not stop, but will rather reach more houses in Israeli villages and cities. For that reason this demonstration, attended by thousands, should be understood as a resonant cry of a people who want to live in their homeland in dignity.”
Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told reporters during the rally that the thousands of demonstrators were sending a clear message to the Israeli government that Palestinian citizens of Israel “would not yield to the systematic policy of home demolitions and incitement imposed by the Netanyahu government” against them.
Ayman Odeh’s spokeswoman Reut Mor confirmed to Ma’an via telephone that Israeli police were firing stun grenades at crowds in Arara, and said that some unconfirmed reports emerged of sponge-tipped bullets being fired at protesters.
While the official demonstration had ended, she said that thousands of demonstrators remained in the area, and that “many people” were on their way to join the crowds as of early Saturday evening.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement that police had “allowed” the demonstration in Arara, on the condition that demonstrators did not obstruct traffic on Route 65, and on the condition that they did not “breach the law.”
“However, a group of demonstrators blocked the main road ignoring police orders prompting police officers to remove them without detentions. The demonstration is going on under police control,” she added.