Israeli police have been accused of using excessive force and unlawful arrests against Palestinians who are protesting against the freezing of budgets for their local authorities. The protests, which started in early May, have also been met with attacks by rightwing Jewish extremists, while the police have failed to protect the demonstrators.
The budget cuts were announced by Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is withholding 200 million shekels ($55m) that were earmarked for Palestinian towns across the country. He also stopped the funds for a five-year educational program for Palestinians at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Smotrich is a member of the Religious Zionism party, which advocates for annexing the occupied West Bank and expelling Palestinians from their lands.
Palestinian local authorities have long suffered from a lack of resources and funds, as well as discrimination and marginalization by the Israeli government. They face challenges in providing basic services such as healthcare, housing, public transport and infrastructure to their residents. The budget cuts have also affected their ability to pay the salaries of their employees.
The protests have been held in front of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, as well as in other Israeli cities and in the occupied West Bank. The protesters have demanded that the government reverse the budget cuts and address the rising levels of crime and violence in their communities. They have also expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, who faced a brutal 11-day bombardment by Israel in May that killed more than 250 people and displaced tens of thousands.
However, instead of listening to their grievances, the Israeli police have responded with repression and brutality. Amnesty International documented more than 20 cases of police violence against peaceful demonstrators since May, including the use of tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and batons. A 17-year-old boy was shot dead by the police in Lod on 10 May.
More Than 2000 Arrests
The police have also arrested more than 2,150 people, mostly Palestinians, on charges such as insulting or assaulting a police officer or taking part in an illegal gathering. Many of them have reported torture and ill-treatment in detention, such as being beaten, kicked, choked, threatened and humiliated.
Among those assaulted and detained by the police were Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset), such as Ayman Odeh, who was punched in the throat and face by a policewoman during a demonstration in Jerusalem on 21 August. Another Knesset member, Sami Abu Shehadeh, said that the protests were “a necessary first step to confronting the racist government and its racist approach”.
The police have also failed to protect the protesters from attacks by rightwing Jewish extremists, who have organized freely and incited violence against Palestinians on social media. The extremists have assaulted Palestinians with knives, clubs, stones and firebombs, vandalized their properties and cars, and chanted “death to Arabs” and “may your village burn”. Some of these attacks have been carried out with the complicity or indifference of the police.
The Israeli authorities have been condemned by human rights groups and international organizations for their violations of the rights of Palestinians. The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said that Israel’s actions may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. She also urged Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and respect their right to self-determination.
The Palestinian protesters have vowed to continue their struggle until their demands are met. They have called for an end to the budget cuts, the discrimination and the violence. They have also called for justice and accountability for those responsible for the violations. They have said that they will not give up on their rights and dignity as human beings.