Israeli rights groups claim that while many Israeli Jews have protested Operation Protective Edge, none have been arrested or detained, whereas thousands of Palestinians have
HAIFA - It was no surprise to Mohammad Eghbariya when Israeli police came knocking on his door in his hometown of Zalafa, a Palestinian village in the Triangle region of Israel, on 23 July.
His family was hosting several relatives who came to celebrate the law student’s twenty-first birthday, as well as have the day’s first meal and break the traditional fast observed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
“Then two normal cars pulled up in front of the house in the evening, no later than 8 pm,” he told Middle East Eye. “My six-year old brother answered the door. He was very scared and didn’t understand who they were because they were dressed in civilian clothing and asking a lot of questions about me.”
Ehbariya is only one of hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel arrested since protests erupted in early July following the kidnapping and murder of Palestinian youth Mohammad Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.
As demonstrations only intensified after Israel launched its ongoing military offensive against the Gaza Strip - which has resulted thus far in the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians - the number of arrests sky-rocketed.
“As of [26 August], there have been approximately 800 arrests of Palestinians in Israel since 2 July,” Salah Mohsen, spokesperson for the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Center, told Middle East Eye. “This is the largest wave of arrests for Palestinians in Israel since October 2000, when the Second Palestinian Intifada [uprising] began.”
Many Palestinian citizens of Israel say detention and police harassment are part and parcel of life under a government that considers them second-class citizens.
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship, live in villages, towns and cities across present-day Israel and suffer more than 50 discriminatory laws that stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, according to Adalah.
“I was targeted”
In Eghbariya’s case, the police had intended to arrest him a day earlier than he was taken into custody, but he had yet to return from completing a final exam at Tel Aviv University.
When police came in as the family was wrapping up the traditional meal, they handcuffed him in front of his family. “When we were still at my house, the officers told me they just wanted to take me in for interrogation,” he recalled.
After being transferred to a nearby police station, Eghbariya says he was put in a room by himself for some four hours. “They came after that and told me that I was under arrest, but refused to tell me the reasons,” he said. “They complained about me and other protesters. There was a lot of racist talk. I was told that we [Arabs] don’t appreciate everything Israel has done for us and that we should go to Syria.”
“While I was being processed, I saw many of my friends and comrades being brought into the police station,” he said, adding that he understood there was an organised effort to target known Palestinian activists in Israel.”
Together, he and three friends were transferred to the al-Jalameh detention center near Haifa, where he was tried during the early hours of the following morning. “My parents were fined, but my father hasn’t told me how much. I was also sentenced to four days of house arrest.”
According to Eghbariya, this “wasn’t the first time I was targeted.” He was first arrested and fined during a 2013 demonstration in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli lockup.
He also helped organise a lecture in May at Tel Aviv University by prominent Palestinian politician Mohammad Kanaaneh, imprisoned by Israel for more than four years after meeting Palestinian militants in Jordan. Sparking uproar in the media and Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the event was swiftly cancelled.
As Palestinians in Israel are being arrested in record numbers, similar arrest campaigns over the last six weeks have been carried out in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, where an estimated 1,000 have been arrested, and East Jerusalem, where more than 600 have been detained.
Gavan Kelly, advocacy officer for Addameer, a group that monitors Israel’s arrests of Palestinians, explains that those targeted in the wave of arrests include politicians, community leaders and protesters alike. “Many Hamas members or supporters have been arrested, as well as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council,” Kelly told Middle East Eye, referring to the defunct Palestinian Authority parliament.
“In Jerusalem, there’s been a huge increase in the number of children arrested,” Kelly added, explaining that youth photographed during protests are often later snatched from their homes during night raids.
Most of the Palestinian citizens of Israel detained during this period were arrested during protests in support of Gaza, though a handful of political leaders and influential activists were arrested at their homes.
Gaza solidarity protests in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories were accompanied by pro-war protests staged by a collection radical rightwing Israelis and, in some cases, anti-Arab lynch mobs. Of the 350 arrested protesters who were eventually prosecuted between 2 July and 6 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz recently reported that none were Jewish.
Now back in his Tel Aviv dorm preparing for exams, Mohammad Eghbariya says it is only a matter of time before his next arrest. “We are living under racist Israeli rule,” he said. “Every day there is a chance we can be arrested in a state with laws built to either exclude or target us.”