Kafr Kanna, Israel – A police helicopter circled above and the wind carried a putrid odour as Israeli police forces sprayed skunk water on protesters at the barricaded northern entrance to this Palestinian village in the Galilee region of northern Israel.
Youths torched tyres and hurled stones, but were pushed back several hundred metres by the officers.
At a time when clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces are gaining steam in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, demonstrators enveloped the streets of Kafr Kanna on Saturday afternoon to confront a heavily armed riot squad to protest the police slaying of a local youth in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“Every time there are tensions in Jerusalem it extends to the north as well,” Najwan Berekdar, 32, a Nazareth-based activist who marched in Kafr Kanna, told Al Jazeera.
“Israeli forces have grown more violent against Palestinians in [present-day Israel] in the last few years. They want to make a point that we are still Palestinians at the end of the day, despite our Israeli citizenship.”
Officers from the nearby city of Nazareth were reportedly called to the village to arrest another man on suspicion of throwing a stun grenade during a family dispute. Kheir al-Dein Hamdan, the man’s 22-year-old cousin, attacked the police car with a knife, according to police reports.
Police said a warning shot was fired, but CCTV footage casts doubt on this claim; it shows officers exiting the squad car, and one shooting the youth in his torso from point-blank range with no warning shot.
This wasn't about him being dangerous … it's about Israel finding new ways to terrorise Palestinians in this country, who are already systematically marginalised.
“If he was dangerous, they could have [shot] him in the leg or arm and apprehended him,” Berekdar said. “The police officers were in a car and [Hamdan] didn’t pose any threat to them. This wasn’t about him being dangerous … it’s about Israel finding new ways to terrorise Palestinians in this country, who are already systematically marginalised.”
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country. According to Adalah legal centre, a Haifa-based advocacy group, they face more than 50 discriminatory laws that muzzle their political expression and limit their access to state resources.
Several hundred protesters from Kafr Kanna, including many from the Islamic movement, weaved through the narrow streets across town to mourn Hamdan’s death.
They confronted heavily armed police forces and sang slogans. “With our souls and our blood we will avenge you, oh martyr,” they cried out. “As one homeland, we will confront the Zionists,” others chanted.
Moshe Weitzman, police spokesperson for the northern district, told Al Jazeera he was unable to confirm the total number of arrests.
“We have been using skunk water and so far there have been no serious injuries,” Weitzman said as tear gas canisters flew overhead behind him. Hamdan’s killing “is currently being probed by Mahash”, a body within the interior ministry tasked with investigating allegations of police misconduct, he added.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee declared a general strike for Sunday and called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the public security minister.
Israeli leaders have vowed to respond harshly to the unrest. Netanyahu declared that Israel “will take action against stone throwers, those who block traffic arteries and those who call for establishing a Palestinian state in place of the state of Israel”.
Netanyahu also threatened to “direct the interior minister to consider stripping the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel”.
Hardline right-wing Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, defended the police officer’s conduct in a Facebook post on Saturday.
“This is what we should expect from the police,” he wrote, calling Hamdan a “frenzied Arab terrorist” and claiming that Israelis ought to support the police in order to prevent “Israelis being killed by knives, fireworks, and run over by cars”.
|Tensions high in Jerusalem after deadly attack|
Jamal Zahalka, leader of the Balad political party and a lawmaker in Israel’s Knesset, explained that Hamdan’s “cold-blooded killing” acted as a “catalyst” for anger over Jerusalem and discriminatory policies against Palestinians in Israel.
“There have been 48 Palestinian citizens of Israel killed by police since the October 2000 massacre when 13 unarmed protesters were shot dead,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that official investigations into allegations against police rarely produce results. A September 2014 Adalah report concludes that Mahash consistently displays a “poor quality of work, creating a culture of impunity and a lack of accountability”.
From 11,282 complaints of police misconduct filed between 2011 and 2013, according to Adalah, 93 percent were eventually “closed by Mahash with or without investigation” and a mere 2.7 percent resulted in the prosecution of officers.
On Saturday night, more than 100 Palestinian protesters gathered in a prominent tourist area on Ben Gurion Street in Haifa, a coastal city in Israel, to protest against Hamdan’s killing and in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem as tensions soar in that city. On Sunday, large demonstrations were scheduled in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba, as well as on university campuses across the country.
“Today we send a message to the Israeli government that we will not be silent,” Zahalka stated. “This was a crime against Palestinians, and we are responding with a day of anger and striking. Kheir Hamdan was killed in cold blood, and we will not quietly accept the killing of our youth.”
Follow Patrick O. Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_