A Killing in the Negev

After police action turned deadly last week in the Negev Bedouin city of Rahat, SHATIL immediately worked to calm the atmosphere and encourage regional solidarity. Following SHATIL’s suggestion for intervention, President Reuven Rivlin called Rahat Mayor Talal El Krenawi and issued a statement to the press:

“It is our duty to address the painful wounds of the Bedouin community,” Rivlin told the mayor. He expressed his condolences to the families of the two men who died and to the Bedouin community as a whole, as well as his hopes that the wounded would quickly recover.

The story began in a way not unfamiliar to the Negev Bedouin. According to local sources, on the night of Wednesday, January 14th, police shot 20-year-old bystander Sami Al-Ja’ar during a violent raid on a suspected drug location in Rahat.

Muslim funerals, like their Jewish counterparts, are held very quickly after a death. Police reportedly did not honour an agreement with the Rahat municipality whereby there would be no police presence at the funeral, which was attended by over 8,000 people, this past Sunday.

“The funeral was very orderly,” says SHATIL Negev organiser Amir Abu Kweder. “At a certain point, an armoured police car came out of nowhere into an area that was supposed to be sealed and drove right up to the graves. I was standing just a few meters from the police car as it drove up provocatively even though the road was still closed… [Rahat resident and mourner] Sammi Aziadna died from smoke inhalation. “Twenty two people were wounded including two police officers.

The Arab Higher Monitoring committee called on the Arab population throughout the country to strike in protest. Demonstrations, some violent, also took place, with four men arrested Monday in Rahat. There has been very little media coverage in Israel of the developments.

“These events do not come out of thin air,” Abu Kweder said. “In recent years we have witnessed a dramatic increase in police violence directed at Arabs in general and Arab residents of the Negev in particular.”

As the situation escalated, SHATIL Director Ronit Heyd contacted Rivlin’s office and he responded quickly, calling the mayor and issuing a public statement.

“We wanted to make heard voices that would calm the situation,” said Heyd. “And to ensure that media coverage would go beyond reporting violence and address the importance of maintaining inter-group relations and the values of a shared society.”

In that spirit, SHATIL approached the newly established Negev Council to issue a statement and continues to make a concerted effort to sound a different voice in the Negev demanding tolerance and moderation from both sides.

January 2015