Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Hearings on Galil Riots Begin
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

On Monday, February 19, the Or Commission, designated to uncover what caused Israeli policemen to kill 13 Israeli Arab citizens at the outset of the Al Aqsa Intifadah in early October, held its first open session and heard contradictory testimony from border patrolmen as to what happened in the village of Jatt. The Tuesday testimony is to deal with Umm el-Fahm.

The committee, comprising High Court Justice Theodore Or, Nazareth District Court Deputy President Sahal Jara, and Tel Aviv University Prof. Shimon Shamir, began the hearings in the High Court building in Jerusalem with an investigation of the events of October 1, when 21-year-old Rami Jara was shot in the eye and killed by a rubber bullet during riots in the village of Jatt.

The session was marked by violent outbursts of emotion by the family of the youth killed.

When border policeman Murshad Rashad, who allegedly killed Jara, took the stand, Jara's mother started screaming and his father and brother rushed up to the podium and began beating him. Court intervention was necessary to halt the assault and Jara's mother fainted.

A few moments earlier, Jara's sister hurled the earphones she was using to hear a simultaneous translation at another border policeman, when he told the commission he had not fired his rifle at the rioters.

The commission members hurried out of the auditorium and the proceedings were halted for almost two hours.

Testimony continued only after Arab MKs and lawyers promised there would be no more outbursts. Later in the day Border Patrol Commander Yaakov Ganot said he wanted, "with all the understanding of the pain and sorrow of the families, to protest -- in my name and in the name of all Border Patrolmen -- against the assault on policemen in the courtroom."

Arab activists charged that the commission members were too soft in their questioning of the policemen. As one Arab MK said: "The families will only calm down when they can question the witnesses themselves" (MK Azmi Bishara -- National Democratic Union).

Many contradictory versions of the events were presented by key border patrolmen who had been among those trying to disperse the rioters. Four troopers testified yesterday, as well as three Jatt residents.

The commission heard, among other things, that the only riot- control equipment used by the Border Patrol in Jatt last October 1 was rubber-coated bullets, and that no effort was made by the IDF police troopers to use any other means, including loudspeakers, to get the crowd to disperse.

Jara was killed two days after the outbreak of the "Aqsa intifadah." A group of about eight border policemen was dispatched to Jatt after rioters burned tires and blocked the main highway.

According to the border policemen who testified yesterday, they had been rushed back and forth during the day from one Arab settlement to another, including nearby Baka el-Garbiya and Umm el-Fahm.

When they arrived in Jatt, most of the border policemen remained at the junction of the main highway and the road leading into the village, while the commander of the unit, Sa'id Abu Rish, sent Rashad and Alexander Shavtchinski ahead toward the rioters.

According to the first witness, border policeman Avraham Bar, Abu Rish sent Rashad and Shavtchinski to "shoot one of the demonstrators" in order to disperse the others.

In response to a question by Shamir, Bar said that Abu Rish did not mean to kill anyone. "To shoot someone would mean to hit him in the leg," said Bar.

Rashad and Shavtchinski told the commission that Abu Rish had ordered them to approach the rioters and make an arrest. Abu Rish said he had told the men to push the rioters back and had authorized them to fire rubber bullets if they were in danger, though his testimony proved that he did not know the basic rules of firing rubber bullets.

Abu Rish was also unable to explain to the panel why he sent only a two-member force to try to disperse a crowd of at least several dozen demonstrators.

The border policemen also differed in their description of the shooting incident. According to Bar, Rashad shot Jara at a distance of about 15-20 meters. Shvatzinsky and Abu Rish said they did not know that Rashad had fired.

Rashad acknowledged that he had fired rubber bullets, but said he was about 70 meters away--far beyond the range of rubber bullets--when he opened fire. He said he did so because he had been spotted and attacked with stones.

Both civilians and policemen testified that the rock- throwers were several meters from where Jara was standing, on the main road into the village, near a cafe where some others were standing peacefully watching the events.

Justice Or decided that, "The deceased was shot from a different point."

There were also differences of opinion about the situation in Jatt that day. Abu Rish testified that cars driving along the main highway, as well as his policemen, were endangered by the rioters. Jatt witnesses, including Mohammed Watad and Muhsan Ahmed, testified that the road was closed and that the only ones throwing stones were children.

Arab leaders and members of the families of the victims were critical of the proceedings and pessimistic about the outcome of the investigation.

Mahmoud Yazbak, the chairman of the association of bereaved families, said commission members left many questions unasked. He said when Abu Rish claimed that the lives of his men were in danger, they should have asked him whether any of them were injured and how far away the rioters were standing.

"We hoped for more from the commission," said Hassan Jabarin, an attorney for the Arab human-rights organization Adalah, which collected testimony on behalf of the commission.

Jabarin demanded that the commission arrest or suspend the suspects in the shooting incidents. He said Or should have accepted the request of the Arab witnesses to testify in Arabic instead of Hebrew, and of the bereaved families to begin hearings at 11 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. so that they could reach Jerusalem from their homes in the North on time.

The police, meanwhile, issued a formal statement on Monday, February 19, promising they would back all the troopers called to the stand during the Or Commission hearings, and if any police or officers are eventually liable for prosecution, the police would provide them with legal services, "including financial help for lawyers."


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