Two men in their 20s were killed Monday night in a shootout between police and underworld criminals in the Arab city of Tamra in northern Israel — one of them a suspect and one an innocent bystander — sparking outrage, protests, and an investigation.
The incident began when police forces identified three criminals who were suspected of firing gunshots toward a house. Cops opened fire toward them, with police saying the suspects responded with gunfire from automatic M-16 rifles.
One of the suspects was hit and killed by officers in the ensuing shootout, another was wounded and the third escaped, police said in a statement.
But the bullets also hit and killed 22-year-old Ahmed Hijazi, a nursing student who came out of his house due to the noise, the reports said.
A young doctor was injured while attempting to treat Hijazi. The Kan public broadcaster said the doctor was in moderate condition.
Police initially claimed both slain men were suspects, before correcting that and saying officials were investigating whether Hijazi was killed by the cops or by the criminals.
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said Tuesday morning that it was probing the incident and had summoned the cops involved for questioning.
Hijazi’s death sparked outrage in the city, with local authorities announcing a one-day strike Tuesday as well as three days of mourning.
“He was a nursing student, the noise got him out of the house, and straight away he got a bullet to the heart,” his brother, Jaber, told Channel 12 News, adding that “the city is burning,” with three or four large protests, demonstrators burning tires, and all entrances being closed off.
“I don’t want to say if the police blew it or not,” he said. “My brother was killed, I don’t know by whom. The Arab community has two to three deaths every week from gunfire by either criminals or cops.”
Other Tamra residents put the blame squarely on the police.
“Ahmed Hijazi is a martyr,” said resident Maysan Subuh. “Ahmed was shot by the police and died because of the police bullets.”
Ahmed Armoush, a cousin of the wounded doctor, said: “They went out to see what was happening like anyone would when they hear that outside their home. This man was far from a criminal. I am angry at the police. Why should they reach that sort of situation between residential homes?”
The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, which works to advance shared society initiatives in Israel, responded to the “tragic event,” calling for a thorough investigation.
“It’s unacceptable for the fight against crime to come at the cost of killing civilians,” the organization said.
“Incidents of this kind fatally damage whatever remains of the Arab public’s trust in the police, and the hasty announcement by the police immediately after the incident, in which all four victims were named as suspects, increases the suspicion Arab citizens have toward the police,” the statement read. “Police are expected to check the details before issuing misleading information, and this is a key element in the trust necessary for law enforcement.”
Ending the spread of violence and organized crime is a major priority for Arab Israelis. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.