Haifa – Hundreds of Palestinians in Israel protested on Monday as thousands participated in the funeral procession of a Bedouin man with Israeli citizenship who died during a confrontation with police on Sunday night. Protests were held by activists in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth, Beersheba, and Rahat, as well as by students at Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, Haifa University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Around 100 protesters gathered in Haifa’s Emile Habibi Square and marched through the city bearing placards and Palestinian flags and chanting slogans against police brutality. “Oh police, Arab blood is not cheap,” dozens sang out in unison. Others yelled: “Resist, resist. Don’t compromise on your rights!”
Sami al-Zayadna, a 43-year-old Bedouin man from Rahat, died from excessive tear gas inhalation when mourners were corned by police in a cemetery during a funeral which turned into a protest. Dozens were also injured, including at least three critical injures, according to local media reports.
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country. A diverse community of Muslims, Christians and Druze, they face dozens of discriminatory laws that stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, such as land and education, according to rights groups.
Clashes also erupted between police and mourners during the funeral of 22-year-old Sami al-Jaar, who was fatally shot while standing on his patio, as police clashed with local youth across the street from his home on Wednesday night.
Speaking to Al Jazeera by telephone, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said that “a police vehicle in the area of the funeral” was surrounded and attacked by “hundreds of people throwing stones, boulders and metal rods”. Two officers were injured.
“Backup units were brought in to help them get out of the area as soon as possible without sustaining further injuries,” Rosenfeld said, adding that “backup units only used non-lethal weapons, including stun grenades”.
Backup units were brought in to help them get of the area as soon as possible without sustaining further injuries, backup units only used non-lethal weapons, including stun grenades.
According to Rosenfeld, Mahash, an investigatory body within Israel’s Ministry of Justice, is investigating claims of police conduct regarding Wednesday’s fatal shooting.
Salah Mohsen, media coordinator for the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Centre, noted that Zayadna is the 50th Palestinian citizen of Israel to have died at the hands of police officers since October 2000, when 13 unarmed demonstrators were fatally shot by police during protests across the Galilee region of the country.
“Until today nothing has changed,” Mohsen told Al Jazeera. “There have been no improvements whatsoever, and Mahash has proven time after time that it cannot be trusted to conduct impartial investigations” into allegations of police misconduct.
From 11,282 complaints of police misconduct filed between 2011 and 2013, according to a September 2014 Adalah report, 93 percent were eventually “closed by Mahash with or without investigation” and a mere 2.7 percent resulted in the prosecution of officers.
Mohsen added that a dangerous precedent has been set, arguing that Mahash’s record “sends a message to policemen; they know that they have impunity when they attack Arab citizens of Israel and can be sure that Mahash will close the file without punishment”.
“Each time this happens, it gives [police] a green light for the next killing or assault,” he added. “We don’t expect that Mahash will give justice to the victims of police violence.”
Following Jaar’s death on Wednesday night, local councils and grassroots committees in towns across the Negev held a three-day general strike and called for a nationwide general strike on Sunday.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an extra-parliamentary body that represents Israel’s Palestinian minority, did not initially honour the calls for a general strike after Wednesday’s events, but has called for a nationwide general strike on Tuesday.
George Ghantous, a left-wing organiser and Haifa-based activist, argued that the Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee “is reacting and not leading. It waits until anger boils over and we pressure it to act, and then tries to calm the situation”.
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“We give the Arab political leaders [in Israel] too much credit,” he explained. “It isn’t just that they don’t do enough about the racist laws and police killings; it is also that they cannot do anything about it.”
Decrying Palestinian political parties in Israel for being preoccupied with primary elections, Ghantous said: “It is time for us in ’48 [present-day Israel] to be united.”
Shops and businesses across the Negev were closed for a general strike on Monday, and the Higher Guidance Committee of Arab Residents in the Negev accused the government of “state terrorism”.
Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, an advocacy group for Arab youth in Israel, expects protests to spread throughout the country this week. “You can feel the anger,” he told Al Jazeera. “Police brutality and killing shows they do not think twice before killing us. Palestinian lives don’t count here.”