Arab localities launch strike in protest of disputed deadly Jerusalem police shooting

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A general strike was held on Sunday in Arab areas in protest against an incident in which police officers shot dead a man in the Old City of Jerusalem a day earlier. Israeli authorities say the man was attempting a terror attack, a claim denied by eyewitnesses and the man’s family.

Police said 26-year-old Mohammed Elasibi – a resident of the Bedouin town of Hura in southern Israel – grabbed a policeman’s gun near the Chain Gate, one of the gates of the Temple Mount holy site, and fired it twice before. he was shot dead.

Eyewitnesses and Arab officers have largely rejected that version of events, and former police officers have said it is “hard to believe” the force’s insistence that none of the many CCTV cameras in the area captured the shooting.

The General Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella group of Arab community leaders, announced the one-day strike in protest against the shooting, insisting that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they consider the shooting to be an accident. -event. an innocent man being shot by police.

The strike included public services, businesses and all schools except special education institutions. In addition, rallies were being planned, including a mass protest during Elasibi’s funeral.

The chairman of the committee, former MK Mohammad Barakeh, told Army Radio on Sunday morning: “This is not a case of conflicting versions – there is a regime body that killed a citizen in cold blood. The burden of proof is on the police.”

Mohammad Barakeh attends a press conference at the protest tent of the High Follow-up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel, in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Barakeh said that the strike was taking place in almost all Arab areas, adding that there would have been no violence unless provocation by the police.

After the Sunday strike was announced on Saturday, Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi visited the mourning tent of the Elasibi family in Hura.

“Mohammed Elasibi is a medical school graduate who came [to the Al Aqsa Mosque] pray,” said Tibi. “He had dreams, they were destroyed by the bullets of the trigger-happy police who think that the Palestinian Arab life is free.”

Tibi compared the incident to the police killings of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an and Iyad Halak, two separate cases in recent years in which the police initially claimed that the victim had attacked or planned to attack , before pleading their innocence. shot in error.

“It’s the same method, deja vu,” he said. “They kill twice – once with bullets, and the second time by smearing them as terrorists. The terrorists are those who terrorize the worshipers who come to pray – and hopefully return home – for Ramadan.

MK Ahmad Tibi speaks during the Haaretz Conference at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, June 16, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Police said Saturday afternoon that the shooting was in an area not covered by security cameras. Police added that “unfortunately the terrorist attack itself was not recorded on the body cameras of the officers involved.”

The Department of Internal Police Investigations of the Ministry of Justice was looking into the incident, and they will decide if an investigation was necessary.

According to the Ynet news site, Elasibi’s family contacted Arab rights group Mossawa Center, which said its investigation showed that the police had obtained legal advice before giving their initial versions of the incident to PIID investigators.

Mohammed Elasibi (Social media used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Elasibi’s body was reportedly transferred to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, where it was decided to perform an autopsy at the request of the family.

Former Jerusalem police chief Yair Itzhaki said at a cultural event in Rishon Lezion on Saturday that it seemed unlikely there was any footage of the incident.

“I don’t see the possibility that there is no police documentation. I personally put the array of security cameras there,” Itzhaki said.

An unnamed former senior police commander expressed similar sentiments about the lack of publicly released footage in comments to the Ynet news site.

“The place is flooded with cameras, so unless there was a system malfunction, I find it hard to believe they didn’t record the shooting,” the former commander said. “The road to the gate is also filmed so it makes no sense that the incident was not filmed.”

Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem after a shooting incident in the early hours of April 1, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Witnesses told the Ynet news site that Elasibi was unarmed and did not pose a danger to the officers.

“The police were treating a woman inappropriately and he intervened and tried to help her – then they shot him. The shooting was unnecessary,” said an anonymous witness.

However, police have doubled down on their version of events, issuing multiple statements condemning “false publications” about the incident, including claims that the area was covered by CCTV.

The force also released statements from some of the police involved.

“I was checking on the suspect, I asked where he was from and asked him to leave because the area was closed at that time,” said an officer identified as ‘Mem’ only, the first initial of his name. “He argued with me and I took him towards the exit. At a certain point the attacker turned to me, grabbed my gun and managed to fire a few shots towards me [Border Police] officers. I managed to take control of him within seconds, took the weapon out of his hands and neutralized him and the second policeman with me.”

His partner ‘Yud’ said: “I felt that our lives were in serious danger. If I hadn’t tackled him, shot him and neutralized him, he would have shot me, my partner and the Border Police.”

A Border Police officer, ‘Lamed,’ supported her testimony, saying that the suspect “pointed the gun at my head” and that she hid behind a cement pillar while it was burning. Another said, ‘Mem,’ “If the cop hadn’t shot and neutralized him, we wouldn’t be here.”

For Palestinian Muslims, worshiping at the site’s Al-Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam – is a central part of the holy month of Ramadan. Jews respect the same site as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism as the site of the ancient Temples.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week and will end on April 21, often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with frictions already high this year in Jerusalem and across the West Bank after months of deadly violence.

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