UMM EL-FAHM, Israel – A march by Jewish activists Tuesday through an Israeli-Arab town to demand residents show loyalty to Israel set off stone-throwing protests by Arab youths that led police to use stun grenades and tear gas to disperse crowds.
The clashes in the northern Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm came at a time of increasing tensions between Israel's Jewish majority and its Arab minority, and residents said the march was a provocation. The leader of the Israeli demonstrators, settler activist Baruch Marzel, has been involved in violent attacks against Palestinians.
No serious injuries were reported.
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Dozens of Arab youths, their faces covered with checkered Palestinian scarves, heaved rocks at heavily armed black-clad police holding up shields, who responded by lobbing back tear gas. AP Television News footage showed a riot policeman firing a tear gas canister at a rooftop where a group of women were shouting pro-Palestinian slogans.
Some of the protesters carried large Palestinian flags, running and weaving between cars.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said 16 policemen were lightly wounded and ten protesters were arrested. Another 15 protesters were lightly wounded, said the town's deputy mayor, Mustafa Suheil.
The violence erupted after police tried to push back protesters attempting to block a bus filled with the Israeli demonstrators, Suheil said.
Right-wing Jews carrying large Israeli flags and flanked by security forces marched on the outskirts of the town, apparently targeted because it is one of Israel's largest Arab communities and is known for Arab nationalist sympathies and as a stronghold of the radical Islamic Movement.
"We came to say that the state of Israel is a Jewish state. We came in a show of loyalty and to say whoever is loyal, welcome. But people who flout the law should get out of here," said Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Jewish ultranationalist who helped lead the event.
The police stationed some 3,000 officers in town, fearing clashes.
Israel's one-fifth Arab minority is made up of ethnic Palestinians who enjoy equal rights under the law but suffer discrimination in government jobs and budgets and tend to be poorer and less educated than Israeli Jews.
Relations between Jews and Arabs have worsened in recent months following Israel's war in the Gaza Strip and a parliamentary election last month that saw Yisrael Beiteinu, a party with an anti-Arab platform, win 15 seats. The party called to revoke the citizenship of Arabs disloyal to the Jewish state.
The party's popularity reflects rising distrust of Arab citizens, perceived by many Israeli Jews as disloyal and potentially hostile.
Traditionally cool relations have periodically spilled over into violence. Thirteen Arabs were killed by Israeli police during rioting at the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.