Residents of a Bedouin village in the Negev claim that police fired tear gas canisters at a local school Monday during clashes that erupted when Interior Ministry inspectors tried to distribute demolition orders for illegal construction. The police denied the allegation, saying that while tear gas was fired to disperse the rioters, it was used at least 300 meters from the school. But 29 children were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where they were treated for burning eyes – a standard reaction to tear gas – and then released. The riot erupted when the inspectors, accompanied by police, arrived at the village of Bir Hadaj Monday morning. Rocks and other objects were thrown at the police, and residents burned tires to try to keep them from entering. Police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the rioters. Salman Abu Hamid, chairman of the village council, said the police also “fired tear gas at the school, as a result of which lots of children needed medical attention and they were taken to the hospital.” Police said that after the clash was over, some of the demonstrators went to nearby Route 222 and threw rocks at passing cars. They also burned three haylofts at Kibbutz Revivim and blew up three water tanks, police said.
“The disturbances and serious violence by young lawbreakers against the security forces and innocent civilians will be dealt with severely and with zero tolerance,” Brig. Gen. Peretz Amar told Haaretz. “We will continue to enforce the law everywhere and at all times, and these actions will not weaken our resolve.” Bir Hadaj residents also clashed with police when they came to post demolition orders two weeks ago. Rocks were thrown at the force in that instance as well. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time village residents have used violence against policemen who came to enforce the law,” said a senior officer in the police’s Southern District. A statement released by the Southern District said yesterday’s incident involved “masked and extremely violent delinquents who systematically disregard the rule of law and prevent law enforcement activities, including handing out demolition orders and attaching them to illegal structures.
This morning, when a police force arrived at the village along with Interior Ministry officials, several of the village’s youths began hurling stones at security forces, as well as torching tires and damaging police cars.” The statement added that the incident took place “300 meters from the school compound” and that “19 suspects were taken in for questioning.” “The police view the severe rioting and violence that the youths employed against security forces and innocent civilians with the utmost severity, and intend to arrest all those involved in the disruptions and bring them to justice,” the statement concluded. Attorney Rawia Aburabia of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel countered that the police violence should be investigated. She also objected to the demolitions. “The whole issue of construction without permits is expected to be sorted out during the process of obtaining recognition for the town,” she explained. “Under these circumstances, it would behoove the authorities to refrain from demolitions until the planning process is completed.”