Arab Israeli anger simmers in Galilee after deadly shooting

Shatha Yaish
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Arab Israeli youths clash with Israeli security forces in Kfar Kana, Israel, on November 9, 2014, a day after security forces shot dead a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli man

Arab Israeli youths clash with Israeli security forces in Kfar Kana, Israel, on November 9, 2014, a day after security forces shot dead a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli man (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

KUFR KANA (Israel) (AFP) - After days of clashes, the smell of teargas hangs heavy in the air in Kufr Kana, a hilltop Arab town simmering with resentment after Israeli police killed one of its own.

Although residents of this biblical town in Galilee are trying to resume some semblance of normal life, there is still a great deal of anger over Saturday's shooting of 22-year-old Kheir Hamdan during an apparently routine arrest.

Israel's Arab minority, which constitutes just over a fifth of the population, have long complained of being marginalised. But over the weekend, decades of frustration exploded in anger following the shooting.

"His only crime was to be an Arab," reads a huge banner hung up in front of the family home, reflecting a sentiment unanimously held throughout the town and beyond.

Hamdan was shot after attacking a police van with a knife.

Police claim the officers fired warning shots before shooting directly at him.

But relatives say he was killed "in cold blood", with CCTV images showing an officer shooting at him as he was backing away from the scene.

"This was a barbaric act," said Rauf Hamdan, his father.

"Even barbarians wouldn't have done that!"

Wearing a traditional black-and-white keffiyeh headscarf, Hamdan said his son was the victim of "a cold-blooded execution."

"They think the Arabs are cockroaches and that their blood is worthless," he spat.

"Arab blood is worth something and Israel should understand that."

Arab Israelis are the descendents of 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land when the Jewish state was established in 1948.

Today, they number 1.7 million and frequently complain of being treated as second-class citizens.

In Arab areas, unemployment levels are higher, access to higher education is complicated and transport infrastructure often underdeveloped, lobby groups say.

- 'Stain on Israel's democracy' -

Following Hamdan's death, some 2,500 people demonstrated in Kufr Kana.

Police clashed with angry youths who threw stones, burned tyres and waved Palestinian flags in a show of anger that drew a sharp retort from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We will not tolerate disturbances and riots. We will take determined action against those who throw stones, firebombs and fireworks, and block roads, and against demonstrations that call for our destruction," he said on Sunday.

And he warned he would look into "revoking the citizenship" of anyone calling for Israel's destruction -- a threat clearly aimed at Israel's Arab minority.

On Monday, his Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch expressed his "full backing" for the actions of those who shot Hamdan.

His remarks drew a furious response from Kufr Kana mayor Mujahed Awadeh, who denounced them as "a stain on Israel's democracy."

"If Kufr Kana was a Jewish town, he would have had to resign," he said.

"But this is an Arab village."

In a bid to honour Hamdan's memory, some hung up Palestinian flags and others could be seen wearing traditional keffiyeh headdresses.

Among them was a young man called Farhan Khatib, who said Kufr Kana had been engulfed in an atmosphere of "sadness and fear" since Saturday.

After two days of observing a general strike, shops in this town of 18,000 had reopened their doors and the municipality sent workers to try and clean the streets after the surge of violence as a dozen police looked on from Kufr Kana's entrance.

In October 2000, as the first Palestinian uprising began, Israeli police shot dead 13 Arab Israeli demonstrators.

Fourteen years on and clashes are once again gripping annexed east Jerusalem and since Saturday's shooting, have swept across many Arab locales in Israel, including Kufr Kana.

"My son is not the first and, if it doesn't stop, things are really doing to get worse," warned his father.