Israeli judges condemn government of Barak and police for 14 riot deaths

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The Independent Online

The last Israeli government and the police were severely criticised yesterday by the long awaited report of a rare judicial inquiry into the killing of 14 Israeli Arabs in several days of riots in October 2000.

In an unequivocal finding that the police used excessive force, the report recommended that neither Shlomo Ben-Ami, then the public security minister, nor Yehuda Wilk, the police commissioner at the time, should take responsibility for security matters again. The report also sharply criticised the then Labour Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, but stopped well short of proposing Mr Barak should not hold office again. He is strongly hinting at a political comeback.

The Arabs, 13 of them Israeli citizens, were shot dead during protests in villages and towns in northern and central Israel in support of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians at the outset of the intifada. A Jew was also killed by a rock thrown at his car by a rioter.

The report also condemned the "state and its various governments failed in dealing with ... the problems of a large [Arab] minority within the Jewish majority, adding: "The government treatment of the Arab sector was characterised by prejudice and neglect." About a fifth of Israel's 6.6 million citizens are Arabs.

The families of the Arab victims and Arab members of the Knesset - two of whom were also criticised, along with an Islamic movement leader, for statements before the riots - voiced anger yesterday that the report had not gone further towards bringing those responsible for the killings to justice. Instead the report by the three- man enquiry team under Justice Theodore Or leaves it to the Ministry of Justice to make its own investigation of individual police officers.

Azmi Bishara, an Arab MP said a "positive" aspect of a report had been its recognition that many officers saw Israeli Arabs as an "enemy" element. But it had not anything like enough evidence to bring those responsible to justice or to provide a comprehensive indictment of "racist" treatment of Israeli Arabs. He also tried to brush aside strong criticisms in the report that he and another MP, Abdulmalik Dehamshe, and an Islamic Movement leader, Raad Salah, had passed on a message before the riots "that supported violence as a way to achieve the objectives of the Arab sector".

The report criticises Mr Barak for insufficient awareness of the strength of Arab feeling and for failing to stop the police using lethal force. And it said Mr Ben-Ami failed to prepare police for wide-scale riots which he had every reason to fear. It failed to find evidence that either man gave the order to clear roads of protestors "at any cost".

¿ Israeli helicopters fired four missiles at a car in Gaza City yesterday, killing at least one Hamas member. Israeli sources claimed two militants had been killed.

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