The policemen were patroling one of the busiest areas in Tel Aviv, Rabin Square, Sunday afternoon when they spotted 19-year-old Maysam Abu Alqian outside a local supermarket.
Alqian raised suspicions and police asked him to identify himself, thinking he might be an illegal resident. He refused to present them with his ID, claiming he had left it inside the store and demanding the officers to identify themselves first, when eye witnesses say police began to beat him up.
Since the incident took place in a crowded part of the city, many people were taking videos and pictures of the brawl, quickly uploading them to Facebook and Twitter.
“Happening now in front of City Hall – an Arab worker takes out the garbage when approached by a man in short pants who asks him to present his ID,” Erez Krispin, who was at the scene, posted on his Facebook profile.
“My ID is inside, who are you?” Krispin described the man as asking, adding that “he didn’t even finish the sentence when they started to beat him to death, punches you have never seen in your life, teeth are flying in the air, the Arab guy is crushed.”
Krispin claimed that “an elderly lady asked them why they are doing this, but the officers replied ‘get away from here before we will finish you too.’ With witnesses around,” he noted, “more police came and joined the two attackers. I don’t know if the Arab is dead or alive, they pushed what’s left of him into a police vehicle – not an ambulance – and disappeared.”
Krispin’s post went viral with more than 1,600 shares and thousands of comments and reactions, while other eye witnesses have posted more and more pictures from the fray to social media.
“This is not a brawl – this is lynching” one Twitter user wrote under the security camera video which was circulating on Israeli media. “Unbelievable. Israel [is now] a generation of violent punks – some of them are in the police, some are in the army,” another user responded.
However, many users added that Israel is still undergoing a wave of violent attacks, and that police were right to be suspicious.
“Not all police officers can wear uniforms, and it’s natural to also have undercover forces patroling the streets. Why couldn’t he just bring his ID from the store” one user commented on Krispin’s post?
Several videos from the scene show police beating Alqian even after he is lying on the ground. However, police claim the worker was the one attacking the officers first, and therefore was arrested.
‘I’m witnessing a lynch mob’
For many, the incident was a sign of the deteriorating relationship between the Jewish and Arab populations in Israel, rather than an isolated case. For others, this was another brick in the wall of distrust in the Israeli police.
In an open letter, the founder of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace Forum, Yitzhak Frankenthal, has called the Chief of Police to apologize and to make sure that “policemen will not act as lords of the land, but as servants of the land.”
Frankenthal, a bereaved parent himself whose son was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994, added that “indeed, we are facing difficult times when there are constant attempts to harm us in any way, but the severe damage of all is the loss of basic morality – our humanity.”
Saguy Green, a journalist and blogger who also witnessed the scene has posted his impressions on his Facebook profile, as well as on the Israeli online magazine The Hottest Place in Hell.
“Something has told me that I’m witnessing a lynch mob, and that if I won’t act now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I yelled at them that I will call the police if they continue – but they looked at me and said ‘we are the police.’ I just prayed that the guy won’t die there.”
Police deny that the first deed of violence came from the officers, saying that Alqian has refused to identify himself while cursing and attacking the policemen, and even biting one of them.
“In light of the recent wave of terrorist attacks, and as part of homeland security tasks, Israeli Police are working with determination to locate and remove illegal residents from across the country for the sake of public safety,” Micky Rosenfeld, Israel Police Foreign Press Spokesman, told DW.
“Initial questioning revealed that the Border Police officers have detected a man who aroused their suspicion and asked him to identify himself.”
Since he refused to do so, Rosenfeld says, they were “forced to use force while the suspect continued to violently attack the policemen.”
Rosenfeld further claimed that as a result of the intensity of the violence directed at them, two policemen were evacuated for medical treatment at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, suffering from bruises and bites.
Still under examination
Some analysts have taken the video for examination, claiming that Alqian was indeed the first one to use force, but many people were doubting the initial legitimacy of the cops to demand an ID without wearing uniforms.
Worried citizens have even started a crowdfunding project to raise money for Alqian. “Meet Maysam, he is 19 years old. He gave up studying Computer Science, and decided to go for Philosophy,” the project’s description reads.
“He worked in two jobs for about 20 hours a day just to save money for university. He is a Bedouin resident of the Negev […] and is in house arrest in his village. Let’s help him fund his studies, from us, with love.”
Following the public outcry, police have obliged to examine the case.
“In accordance with police procedures and customary events which forced police to use force to carry out their duties, all the material will be sent to the Police Investigation Department. Israeli police will continue to take firm action against anyone who endangers the lives of civilians in Israel.”