Israeli probe of deaths exposes fresh wounds

Since then, Israeli Arab solidarity with the Palestinian uprising has only grown, and "the blood of 13 Arab Israeli citizens is still fresh," according to relatives of those killed in the riots.

Under pressure from the Israeli Arab community and Jewish doves, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak created a state commission of inquiry, headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Orr, to look into the October events.

The commission is still in the early stages of its work, but the fact that police officials find themselves under interrogation for the deaths of the 13 has provoked some criticism from Israeli Jews.

The inquiry's findings likely will determine the professional fate of Commissioner Alik Ron, who as head of the police force's northern command was responsible for dealing with the October riots.

In recent years, Ron has been among the foremost voices warning of the radicalization of Israeli Arabs and the growth of support for Muslim fundamentalist groups. Israeli Arabs, in response, claim Ron is a racist who treats Arabs with unnecessary harshness.

Ron has stated in recent weeks that his hands are clean and that, given the extent of the rioting, police could not have acted differently. He also insists that police acted in self-defense in those incidents that resulted in the 13 deaths.

This is precisely one of the points the commission will have to determine.

Arab human rights groups are concerned that the panel will whitewash events — or even justify the police actions.

But Israeli legal expert Moshe Negbi disagrees, saying the commission has a broad mandate from the government.

Arab observers fear that even if the commission finds some police actions unjustified, it may conclude that the riots caught police unprepared and that this would be used to explain the strong police reaction.

They likewise fear the commission may determine that police were justified in believing the Palestinian uprising was spilling into Israel from areas under Palestinian control — and that the police reaction therefore was understandable.