Without live bullets, without dead bodies
By Nehemia Strasler
Violent demonstrations broke out in Prague last week during the joint
conference of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Young people arrived in the Czech capital from the four corners of
Europe to protest globalization and capitalism.Thousands of these
protesters were anarchists and hooligans, who exploited the
opportunity to destroy, to perpetrate violence and to do as much
damage as possible. They were dressed in black from head to toe
and came armed with chains, knives and other weapons. They swept
through the streets of Prague, leaving behind a trail of destruction -
ripping sidewalks apart with shovels, hurling rocks at police officers,
beating them with long poles and even throwing Molotov cocktails at
The lives of the police officers were in danger. Many of them were
injured and required hospitalization. They defended themselves with
shields; they sprayed the protesters with tear gas; they dispersed them
with water cannons; they struck out at them with clubs; and they even
arrested dozens who were held for questioning.
However, despite this difficult situation, no Prague police officer
would ever have dreamed of using live ammunition. Nor did the
Prague police position snipers at strategic locations so that they could
"eliminate" protesters. The people of Prague know that in a
democratic country, police and security forces do not fire live
ammunition against demonstrators. If live bullets are used and if
civilians are killed, harsh criticism is directed against the police; senior
police officers pay for the tragic, horrible blunder with their jobs; and
the episode goes down in the history of the nation as an infamous blot
on its collective record.
In democratic states, the police force is a professional agency that
specializes in crowd dispersal through the use of a variety of methods,
but not by the use of bullets.
The police in Israel also know how to disperse crowds without having
to kill anybody, but this know-how is applied only when the
demonstrators happen to be Jews. The facts speak for themselves.
During the course of the violent demonstrations on behalf of former
Shas leader Aryeh Deri; in the harsh clashes with Ethiopian
immigrants who were protesting their treatment by the authorities; in
the riots organized on Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem by members of the
ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, some of whom hurled rocks at
police officers; and during the closure of major traffic arteries and
intersections by angry workers, the police never once fired a shot, not
even a rubber-coated bullet.
Yet, when a protest march was organized by local residents of the
Harakevet district of Lod, the police did fire rubber-coated bullets at
the demonstrators, wounding a large number of Arabs in the upper
parts of their bodies. When the Bedouin held a demonstration near
Omer, the police fired live bullets, killing one of the protesters.
Over the past week, police bullets killed 10 Israeli Arabs who
participated in the demonstrations. Although these were violent
clashes that were undoubtedly of a grave nature, the situation did not
automatically warrant the use of live weapons. Even the police are not
claiming that the lives of the officers at the demonstrations were in
"substantive and imminent danger," a situation that, in accordance with
a Supreme Court ruling, would justify the use of live ammunition.
The victims were not holding firearms when they were shot. The
police opened fire because this is how they were taught to disperse
Arab demonstrators. The police know that they have a license to
shoot Arabs, regardless of whether those Arabs live on this or that
side of the pre-1967 borders of Israel.
The police began to fire on the protesters in the very first hour of the
demonstrations, as if they were dealing with enemies of the state who
must be "put out of commission" - permanently. The police
conveniently forgot that they were, in fact, confronting citizens of this
country who were demonstrating because their pain is very real.
Israeli police officers are trained to solve any problem involving Arab
citizens by means of force. And if that does not work, then by means
of more force - because "the only language that the Arabs understand
is the language of force."
Nonetheless, the bullets and the deaths did not make the job of
dispersing the demonstrators any easier for the police. To the
contrary, they only fueled the flames: The demonstrations continued;
the violence actually increased; and the protesters maintained their
siege of many of the country's highways.
Haifa Police Chief Dov Shechter authorized his personnel to use live
ammunition against demonstrators in the city "after the rubber-coated
bullets and tear-gas canisters run out." Does this mean that inadequate
handling of crowd dispersal situations and faulty organization are
sufficient justification for killing civilians?
One of the television camera crews of Channel Two happened, quite
by accident, to film an incident in Nazareth in which seven police
officers cruelly beat two women, Dr. Nassrin Assouli and her sister,
who were protesting the actions of the police, but who were
completely unarmed, holding neither rocks nor clubs in their hands.
The police officers cursed Assouli, humiliated her, hurled her to the
ground, kicked her and broke her shoulder with a rifle butt. If this
incident had not been photographed, the police would undoubtedly
have denied that it ever happened.
And it is quite clear that this was not an isolated episode. How can
we explain, for example, the fact that as pediatrician Dr. Ataf
Ramadan was innocently driving down a side street in Nazareth,
police suddenly let loose with a a volley of bullets directed at his car,
wounding his wife in the chest and arms? In what possible way had
she endangered the lives of the police officers?
Because of heavy pressure from the leaders of the Israeli Arab
community, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was forced to agree to the
appointment of a commission of inquiry. This commission should be
led by a courageous magistrate, who should study each and every
fatal shooting incident and determine whether, in each case, the life of
the police officer who fired the shot was in "substantive and imminent
danger," or whether the motive for the fatal bullet was pure hatred.
The magistrate heading the commission should also reach relevant
executive conclusions regarding all levels of the law enforcement
establishment, including Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk and
Public Security Minister (and acting Foreign Minister) Shlomo
It is simply intolerable to see senior police officers creating a wall of
dead bodies between Jewish and Arab citizens of this country,
thereby effectively destroying all of the achievements, all the
cooperation and all the friendly ties associated with peaceful ethnic
coexistence in Israel. Israeli Arabs have always been, and continue to
be, welcome and equal citizens in this country. They must enjoy full
rights, including the right to demonstrate without having to count the
live bullets or the dead bodies in the aftermath