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Clashes in Israeli Arab Town During Far-Right Demo | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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UMM EL-FAHM, Israel (AFP) – Riot police fired tear gas to break up clashes on Tuesday in Umm El-Fahm, a bastion of Israeli Arab nationalism where far-right Jewish extremists held a court-sanctioned march.

Angry residents threw stones at helmeted Israeli police who were deployed in their thousands for the rally in the northern Israeli city.

Police responded with tear gas, sound grenades and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Carrying Israeli flags, the far-right protestors marched under heavy police protection on the outskirts of Umm El-Fahm, prevented by the police and hundreds of angry residents from entering the town.

The Jewish demonstrators had petitioned the High Court to allow them to march in the city, a stronghold of the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, to demonstrate their right to march anywhere in Israel.

Among the leaders of the march is Baruch Marzel, who led the anti-Arab Kach party that was banned in 1994 and who has been questioned several times by police in connection with attacks on Arabs. Another leader is Michael Ben Ari, an MP with the far-right National Union settler party.

Arab residents said the protest was meant to provoke and had to be stopped.

“This is not just a simple provocation,” the head of the Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah told AFP, saying Israel’s extreme right wanted to “legitimise the transfer” of Israeli Arabs from the country.

“We have to fight to stay here and we must prevent by all means Marzel and company from entering into Umm El-Fahm.”

Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab MP, added: “Freedom of expression should not mean the freedom to expel and incite against the Arab citizens.”

Another Israeli Arab MP, Jamal Zahalka, slammed the Jewish demonstrators as racists. “Racism is not freedom of expression, it’s a criminal act and the law should punish it.”

Israel’s High Court signed off on the Umm El-Fahm march in October, but police then called off planned demonstrations on several occasions. The court ruled again in favour of a march in January.

“The last time it was cancelled it was based on concrete intelligence that there will be disturbances and that’s why it was cancelled,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Marzel had planned to monitor voting in Umm El-Fahm during the February 10 Israeli election, but the authorities withdrew permission at the last minute for fear of violence.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population of nearly seven and a half million, and are the descendents of those who remained in Israel following the creation of the Jewish state and the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.