Former Israeli police commander blames government in killing of 13 Arab IsraelisBy Laurie Copans, Associated Press, 9/3/2001 16:12
JERUSALEM (AP) A former police commander asserted Monday that he was not to blame for the killing of 13 Arab Israelis in anti-government, pro-Palestinian riots last year, instead blaming the government and his bosses and subordinates.
In a much anticipated public hearing, Alik Ron the police commander for Israel's northern district until he stepped down in July said the deaths could have been prevented with proper police equipment and preparation.
Ron said the government and police were caught off guard last October when the angry demonstrations broke out in an expression of solidarity with Palestinians fighting against Israel. The riots erupted a few days after what is now nearly a year of violence between Palestinians and Israel began on Sept. 28.
''It came like a bolt of lightning on a clear day,'' Ron told the investigative panel of three judges in a Jerusalem courtroom. ''The trouble could have been prevented.''
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population. Most have relatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and many feel torn between their identities as Arabs and as Israelis. During the past year of conflict, their leaders have moved closer to the Palestinian leadership politically, angering many Jewish Israelis.
Ron, who has harshly criticized Israeli Arab leaders and become a focus of Arab animosity, blamed the government, police commissioners and subordinates in the field for the 13 deaths.
Successive governments discriminated against Arab Israelis for years and ignored warnings that anger was festering just below the surface in the community, Ron said. He also said police did not gather enough intelligence in the community.
Relatives of the Arab victims were in the courtroom, while dozens of police surrounded the building to prevent violence. Police separated dozens of supporters and critics of Ron outside.
During a break, the brother of Muhammed Hamaiseh, who was killed by gunfire in the village of Kafar Kana on Oct. 4, blamed Ron and said he did not expect much from the panel.
''He's telling lies. He's responsible for the deaths of 13 people,'' said Rifat Hamaiseh, 24, as he put his arm around his sobbing mother. ''There's no justice here.''
In more than seven hours of testimony, Ron told the panel that police did not have enough tear gas or other non-lethal means to quell the riots. When police were in life-threatening situations they often used rubber-coated bullets, he said.
The panel did not deal Monday with accusations that police broke rules by using live ammunition even when their lives were not in danger.
Police were not trained to use rubber bullets and sometimes shot from a short and lethal distance, Ron told the judges.
''In several cases police faced desperate situations that were life threatening and they felt they had to use such means,'' Ron said.
Police were often in danger because backup forces came too late or not at all, Ron said. He said 7,000 police were needed, but only a few hundred were available.
The commission, which began its work in February, was formed at the
demand of Arab Israelis who blamed the government and police for
excessive use of force. Its findings will be presented to the prime
minister, but will not be binding.