- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

UMM EL-FAHM, Israel — An Israeli state commission faulted police for firing on the nation’s Arab minority during demonstrations nearly three years ago, and blamed successive governments for doing too little to counter discrimination against the country’s Arabs.

About 13 Arab citizens of Israel were killed during nine days of demonstrations in which rioters threw rocks at policemen and blocked highways to express solidarity with similar protests erupting in Palestinian territories.

A Jewish motorist was stoned to death during the protests.

“The state did not do enough to ensure equality for Arab citizens and to uproot discrimination and prejudice,” the commission said.

The report was released yesterday as clashes continued between Israelis and Palestinians, with an Israeli helicopter firing missiles at a car carrying members of militant group Hamas in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. One Hamas member died, another was critically wounded, and at least 25 bystanders were injured.

Israeli soldiers also shot and critically wounded a 15-year-old boy in the West Bank city of Nablus after a Palestinian firebomb attack that set an Israeli tank ablaze.

About 14 Palestinians, including at least 10 Hamas members, have died in six Israeli missile strikes after an Aug. 19 suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus that killed 20 persons.

Despite the unabated violence, much of Israel’s attention yesterday was focused on the conflict between Arabs and Jews in its own back yard.

The two-volume report, compiled by a three-member panel led by Deputy Supreme Court Chief Justice Theodore Orr, contained hundreds of pages of testimony from 377 witnesses.

Only four other times in Israel’s history has the government commissioned a panel with the same stature.

The demonstrations by Israeli Arabs started shortly after the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 and marked a watershed in relations between Jews and Israel’s Arab minority.

Television and radio news channels yesterday devoted special broadcasts to the publication of the report.

It criticized the prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, and the public security minister, Shlomo Ben Ami. The panel recommended that Mr. Ben Ami be disqualified from another term as public security minister, but stopped short of any recommendation regarding Mr. Barak.

While both men have since retired from politics, Mr. Barak is considering a comeback, and the report removes an obstacle to his re-entry.

The report was especially critical of the top echelon of the Israeli police, recommending that a former national police chief and a former regional commander never return to the service. It called for the firing of two commanders still on active duty.

The panel accused the police of misleading politicians about the stationing of snipers to fire on Arab protesters, and said the Arab minority viewed the force as hostile.

Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid said he had ordered the state prosecutor to prepare for an expected criminal investigation into the shootings.

“The main conclusion is that Jews need to do more in ensuring equal rights in the state of Israel for minorities,” Mr. Lapid said. “And Arab leaders need to do less incitement to violence against the government.”

The panel also criticized two Israeli-Arab parliament members and an Islamic leader for encouraging followers to use violence.

Arab leaders said they doubted the report would be implemented by the government, and criticized the commission for not holding Mr. Barak and Mr. Ben Ami directly responsible for the shootings.

“From our experience, we know that most of the report will be squandered. The problem is not the police, it’s with the government,” said Mustafa Mahmid, acting mayor of Umm El-Fahm, the Israeli-Arab town in which the first demonstrators were killed.

“I don’t know how it’s possible to refurbish relations when political leaders won’t even visit our town,” he said.

The previous inquiries have focused on the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps by Israel’s Christian allies during the 1982 Lebanon War, the outbreak of the 1973 Israeli-Arab War and the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians at a mosque in Hebron by a Jewish terrorist.

Although the conclusions of the panel carry substantial public weight, the recommendations have little teeth. The commission did not have the power to determine criminal culpability for the killings.

Nardin Asli, whose brother was killed in the demonstrations, said she is still waiting for justice.

“There are 13 murder cases,” she said. “What will satisfy me is when those responsible will be punished.”

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