An Israeli Arab rammed his vehicle into a group of police officers yesterday, killing one of them before he was shot dead during clashes in southern Israel.
Local residents, however, accused the police of using excessive force and said the man lost control of his vehicle after he was shot.
The incident took place as protesters were demonstrating against the court-ordered demolition of illegally constructed buildings in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. It threatened to further strain relations between the government and Israel’s Arab minority.
Arab citizens often complain of second-class status, while many Israeli Jews view them as disloyal because they largely sympathise with the Palestinians.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a local man sped toward the forces deployed to Umm al-Hiran yesterday as they were securing the area ahead of the planned home demolitions.
A 4x4 raced toward the troops, killing 34-year-old policeman Erez Levi, Mr Rosenfeld said. Troops opened fire at the driver, killing Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan, 50, whom Israeli officials later identified as belonging to an Islamist group. The clashes continued, and several policemen were wounded.
Local residents said Mr al-Qiyan was trying to leave town and only lost control of his vehicle after police shot at him. His brother, Ahmad al-Qiyan, said he was “murdered in cold blood”, and Amnesty International called for a probe into the reports of excessive force by police.
“The police are light on the trigger when it comes to Arab citizens,” the Arab advocacy group Adalah said in a statement that accused the police of a “culture of lying”.
Palestinians have carried out a number of attacks using cars to ram into Israelis over the past year and a half. Earlier this month, a Palestinian truck driver rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four.
MP Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List in the Israeli parliament, was wounded in yesterday’s clashes, along with several others. He was evacuated to a hospital with blood streaking down his forehead.
In a shaky voice, he told Israel’s Army Radio that he was shot by over-zealous officers who were deployed after extensive negotiations to delay the demolition broke down.
“This is a direct order from [prime minister Benjamin]Netanyahu, who wants to inflame the area,” he said. “This is a disgrace.”
Israeli police said he was likely struck by a rock thrown by a protesters, and public security minister Gilad Erdan accused Mr Odeh of lying about what happened. Mr Erdan said he hoped the incident would not spark further divisions between Jews and Arabs in Israel – but that Mr Odeh would be to blame if it did. “He was there to inflame tensions and incite to violence,” Mr Erdan told Army Radio. “He contributed to a very serious event that may have criminal implications for him.”
In a statement, Mr Netanyahu called on MPs to stop inciting to violence. “The Bedouin public is part of us, we want to integrate it into Israeli society and not radicalise it,” the prime minister added.
The demolitions were eventually carried out.
Arabs make up a fifth of Israel’s population. They enjoy full citizenship but frequently face unfair treatment in areas like jobs and housing.
The Israeli government recently vowed to crack down harder on illegal Arab construction following criticism from Jewish settlers, who face a court-ordered evacuation of an illegally built outpost in the West Bank.
Last week, authorities demolished 11 homes in the central city of Kalansua, sparking a general strike among Israeli Arabs.