Israeli Arabs remain unhappy as report on 2000 riots released

UMM EL-FAHM, Israel — A new report on the shooting deaths of 13 Arabs by Israeli police during October 2000 riots may spark new consideration of the Jewish state's relationship with its Arab minority.

But when the findings of Israel's special commission investigating the deaths were broadcast on Israeli television Monday afternoon, not many people were watching at the al-Baboor restaurant in Umm el-Fahm.

Indeed, throughout this Arab city — which stood at the eye of the storm three years ago — there was barely a stir when the Orr Commission findings were announced. There was no drama, just disenchantment.

Three years ago, on Oct. 2, 2000, Arab protestors from Sakhnin and Arabeh in the north all the way to the Negev in the south clashed with Israeli police at demonstrations in support of the new Palestinian intifada. More than anywhere else, Umm el-Fahm was the center of that day's events.

Arab protestors near the city of 38,000 blocked the main traffic artery between the coastal plain and northern Israel, assaulting some Jewish drivers and ransacking buildings. Prime Minister Ehud Barak instructed Israeli police to do their "utmost" to keep the roads open, and at one point police opened fire on the demonstrators, using snipers and rubber bullets to quell the rioters.

In all, 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian from Gaza were killed, including three people shot at the entrance to Umm el-Fahm.

After the October 2000 riots, Barak appointed a state inquiry commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Orr to probe the events.

This week, as the Orr Commission's 860-page report was released, traffic was moving smoothly at the Highway 65 intersection near Umm el-Fahm that had been the focus of the riots three years earlier.

The commission ruled that many police officers are prejudiced against Israeli Arabs and even regard them as enemies of the state — an attitude that affected their behavior in the October riots, the report said.

"Israel Police should teach its officers that the Arab public at large is not the enemy, and one should not treat it as such," the report said.

However, the commission also found that Israeli Arab leaders — such as Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement and mayor of Umm el-Fahm at the time of the riots, and Knesset members Azmi Bishara and Abdul Malek Dahamsheh — had incited their populace against the state with inflammatory speeches that encouraged violence.

Locals in Umm el-Fahm did not seem impressed by the report's findings.

"Forget about it," said Mahmoud Aghbariya, an activist from Balad, an Israeli Arab political party, sitting at a local coffee house on the city's main street. "They will always treat us as enemies. A commission report cannot change the way they think."