With the authorization of Prime Minister Ehud Barak
and Shlomo Ben-Ami
, minister of internal security, and despite Palestinian warnings, Likud Party
leader Ariel Sharon
The October 2000 events were a series of mass protest actions by Palestinians in Israel in early October 2000 to protest Israeli killings and oppression in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied areas after Ariel Sharon – at the time, the leader of the Likud Party in the Knesset – entered the area around al-Aqsa Mosque. The protests resulted in the death of 13 civilians, who were killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with live ammunition and rubber bullets. The IDF also injured and detained hundreds more throughout all areas where Arab citizens live in Israel, from the Negev in the south to al-Aqsa in the north, as well as all mixed cities.
Causes and Course of the October 2000 Events
On the morning of 28 September 2000, Ariel Sharon entered the area around al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with several members of the Knesset and Israeli policemen, a deliberately provocative act. Palestinians rushed to the area to defend the mosque; they included prominent Jerusalem figures as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel such as Faisal Husseini and Raed Salah and Knesset members Mohammad Barakeh, Azmi Bishara, Abd al-Malik Dahamsha, Ahmad Tibi, Taleb el-Sana, and Mohammed Hassan Kanaan. Shortly after Sharon’s visit, clashes broke out with the police. Israeli security forces responded to Palestinian stone throwers with rubber bullets and tear gas. Dozens of Palestinians, as well as a few policemen, were injured.
News and images of Sharon’s visit to al-Aqsa, and the confrontation that resulted, spread quickly. This sparked outrage, which found expression in protests and marches across many Palestinian areas. The next day, clashes resumed after Friday prayers, between people who had been praying in al-Aqsa Mosque and Israeli security forces. Israeli security was came prepared with an array of tactics to suppress the demonstrations, including police snipers who shot at the people praying. They killed seven people, and wounded and detained hundreds more. The next day, 30 September, more protesters took to the street, bearing Palestinian flags and black flags. They spread across Arab villages and cities in Israel, including Nazareth, Kafr Kanna, Sakhnin, Shafa ‘Amr, Umm el-Fahm, Baqa al-Gharbiyya, Kafr Qara, Tamra, and Haifa. One image that greatly influenced participation in the protests was footage of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah being killed by an Israeli military bullet as he cowered behind his father on the ground, near the Netzarim settlement in southern Gaza on the evening of 30 September.
In light of the protests against what Palestinians considered to be a preplanned massacre, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel convened in the village of Kafr Manda on 30 September. Political leaders and the heads of local and municipal councils met and announced a general strike to be held the next day. In the days that followed, from 1 to 3 October, protests spread across most Arab villages and cities in Israel. They were met with a violent response by members of the police, including snipers. On orders from Prime Minister Ehud Barak, they opened fire on the protesters with tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets, and live ammunition. (In a special meeting on the night of 1 October attended by Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Minister of Public Security, Barak instructed police commanders not to hesitate in “using all means” to engage with Arab protesters, and to open routes that they could later close off. It was later learned that the police had undergone trainings on how to deal with large-scale demonstrations in Arab society, which clearly covered the use of snipers. Important trainings included “The Magic of Melody” and a war game called “Winds of the Storm,” which was held at the Police Training Center in Shafa ‘Amr on 6 September, one month before the October events.)
In the first three days of October, Israeli police and armed Jewish citizens killed eleven unarmed young men. On 8 October, which was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), hundreds of Jewish residents of the city of Nazareth Illit (which was established on land seized from Nazareth and renamed Nof Hagalil in June 2019) attacked residents of Nazareth’s eastern neighborhood. Instead of confronting and stopping the aggressors, the police aimed their weapons at the Arab residents of Nazareth, who came out to defend their neighborhood and families; two Palestinians were killed and dozens more were injured.
Palestinians Killed in the October Events
|Name||Age||Location||Type of Injury||
|Mohammed Ahmed Jabareen||23||Umm al-Fahm||Rubber-coated metal ammunition to the eye||1/10|
|Ahmed Ibrahim Siyam||18||Mu‘awiya||Live ammunition to the lower back||1/10|
|Rami Hatem Ghorra||23||Jatt al-Muthalath||Rubber-coated metal ammunition to the eye||1/10|
|Eyad Sobhy Lawabneh||26||Nazareth||Ammunition to the chest||1/10|
|Alaa Khaled Nassar||18||Arraba||Ammunition to the chest||2/10|
|Aseel Hassan Asleh||17||Arraba||Ammunition to the neck from behind||2/10|
|Emad Faraj Ghanaim||25||Sakhnin||Live ammunition to the head||2/10|
|Waleed Abdelmoneim Abu Saleh||21||Sakhnin||Live ammunition to the stomach||2/10|
|Masleh Abu Jarad||19||Deir al-Balah||Police sniper bullets to the head (killed in the Umm el-Fahm area)||2/10|
|Ramez Abbas Bushnaq||24||Kafr Manda||Ammunition to the head||3/10|
|Mohammed Ghaleb Khamaisi||19||Kafr Kanna||Live bullets||4/10|
|Wissam Hamdan Yazbek||25||Nazareth||Live ammunition to the neck from behind||8/10|
|Omar Mohammed Akkawi||42||Nazareth||Ammunition to the chest||8/10|
The Creation and Circumstances of an Official Commission of Inquiry
In a meeting held on 3 October between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and representatives of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Arab representatives requested that a commission of inquiry be formed, to determine who was responsible for the escalation of events. Barak promised to conduct an inquiry provided that Arab leaders tried to placate the situation. On 21 October, a fact-finding committee led by retired judge Shalom Brenner was formed to look into police actions during confrontations with Arab protesters. However, families of the dead and wounded, Arab leaders, and civil society and human rights organizations rejected the committee because it had no actual power. Before the committee members resigned, they recommended that an official commission of inquiry be appointed, in accordance with the Law on Commissions of Inquiry (1968). This law grants broad powers to such commissions, including the ability to summon witnesses and require them to testify before a commission, just as in court. On 8 November, Barak was forced to agree to form an official commission of inquiry.
On 15 November, the President of the Supreme Court appointed the commission: Supreme Court Judge Theodor Or (President); Shimon Shamir of Tel Aviv University, a former ambassador to Egypt; and Judge Sahel Jarrah, deputy president of the Nazareth District Court. (In June 2001, Jarrah resigned for health reasons and was replaced by Hashim Khatib, president of the Nazareth District Court.) The commission’s official mandate was to investigate “the conduct of the inciters, organizers, participants in these events.” The High Follow Up Committee criticized the commission for changing the mandate it had been given; in fact, the committee’s instructions had been amended due to pressure by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, apparently in response to accusations made by the police that Arab political figures (namely Shaykh Raed Salah, and Members of the Knesset Abd al-Malik Dahamsha and Azmi Bishara) had incited Palestinian citizens of Israel into a confrontation with the police.
Or Commission Report
After hearing hundreds of statements and examining thousands of documents, the Or Commission issued its report in late October 2003. The commission acknowledged that there was no justification for killings during the protests, that snipers were used to disperse demonstrations in violation of the law and in violation of instructions for opening fire, and that there was no evidence that the protesters posed a threat to the security forces or the public. The report also acknowledged the police’s hostile mentality toward Arab protesters and its mistreatment of them, which easily escalated to killing during the events. The commission recommended the need to eliminate the police force’s culture of rampant lying to cover up abuses committed by members of the police. More generally, the commission recommended that immediate action be taken to address the discrimination faced by Arab citizens in all areas of life.
The commission held Shlomo Ben-Ami, police commanders, and some officers responsible for failing to control the protests. It recommended that Ben-Ami not resume office in the Ministry of Internal Security, that specific police commanders be banned from internal security, and that the Police Investigation Unit – Mahash – investigate the events that resulted in the deaths of protesters to determine the perpetrators, as well as all cases where shots were fired by snipers, and incidents of attacks on civilians unrelated to the events.
Despite these positive recommendations, the commission was faulted by some observers. It did not hold political figures (Ariel Sharon, his visit to al-Aqsa, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak) directly responsible for what happened; it merely recommended that Ben-Ami not resume office in the Ministry of Internal Security. Moreover, it condoned incitement against Arabs by official figures in important positions, while accusing representative Arab figures of incitement, making it possible, with advance warning, that charges could be brought against them. And during the course of the three year investigation, the commission did not attempt to uncover the identities of members of the police and border guards responsible for the killing or to direct accusations at them, even though this would have been possible. Instead, it merely transferred the task to Mahash, giving them time and enabling them to bend the situation to their advantage. Indeed, in September 2005, nearly five years after the October 2000 events, Mahash released a report which stated that there was no way to file an indictment for any of the 13 police killings. In January 2008, the Attorney General adopted Mahash’s recommendations and closed the case.
To conclude, it is worth framing the October 2000 events within the sociopolitical context of the status of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. This context furthers an understanding of how the events began, and stopped, and how they differed from what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the escalation of the second intifada. Palestinians in Israel suffer from discrimination in all aspects of life, including in land-planning policies, which are based on ongoing expropriation and restrictions. They suffer from rising poverty rates and unemployment rates, as well as low wages, low levels of education, and low rates of students who obtain their high school matriculation certificate (the Bagrut) and a university education. The impasse in negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government after the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000 also played a role in shaping the political context that angered Palestinians, particularly those in Israel, whose convictions were strengthened that Israel was not prepared to recognize Palestinians’ rights, even if they accepted a political settlement.
Furthermore, Palestinians in Israel consider themselves citizens of the state and act accordingly. They have expectations that they seek to realize in ways that fall within the scope of the law. This kind of relationship with the state determines patterns of collective political behavior. Protests are rarely spontaneous. Protest activity and its timing, duration, program, and chants are usually announced in advance. Despite their different approaches, Palestinian political leaders in Israel were the ones who – just two days after the one-day general strike was announced and the October 2000 events began – hastened to hold meetings with Israeli ministers and representatives to defuse the situation and restore calm. By way of contrast, the struggle of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, to end the occupation is not subject to the same constraints, even though they must consider the conditions of each stage when choosing the form their struggle will take.