Ben Ami and Barak to Testify Before the Commission of Inquiry This Week


Adalah Argues That They Have Direct Responsibility for the Killing of 13 Palestinian Citizen Demonstrators and for the Injury of Hundreds of Others


Former Minister of Internal Security Shlomo Ben Ami and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who both held their positions during the October 2000 demonstrations, are scheduled to testify this week before the official Commission of Inquiry (“the Commission”) on Monday, 19 November 2001 and Tuesday, 20 November 2001, respectively. The following materials prepared by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, have been given to the Commission in anticipation of their testimonies. Adalah believes that Mr. Barak and Mr. Ben Ami anticipated the protest demonstrations in October 2000, ordered the police to open streets through force, and did not prevent the killing of demonstrators by their agents, the police forces.


Anticipated Demonstrations and Orders by Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben Ami

On 29 September 2000, following the killing of seven Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Prime Minister Ehud Barak participated in an assessment of the internal security situation. According to the testimony of Mr. Barak’s military secretary, Mr. Gadi Eizenkot, who was present during that assessment, protest demonstrations by the Palestinian community in Israel were anticipated at a level referred to as “Land Day Plus” (On this day – 30 March 1976 – Israeli security forces killed six Palestinian citizens and wounded hundreds more during protests over land confiscations. Land Day is marked by Palestinian citizens annually on March 30). Mr. Eizenkot confirmed this in his testimony before the Commission on 7 November 2001.

On the evening of 1 October 2000, a meeting was held in Mr. Barak’s home. Among those in attendance were the Minister of Internal Security, Shlomo Ben Ami, and the Chief of Police, Yehuda Vilk. The participants knew about large-scale protest demonstrations by Palestinian citizens that were held that day in Wadi Ara. They knew that one demonstrator had been killed and that many others had been injured. Despite this fact, a green light was given to the police to open the roads, including the Wadi Ara Road, using whatever means they deemed necessary.

On the morning of 2 October 2000, Mr. Barak gave an interview on Reshet Bet, a major Israeli radio station, stating: “We cannot and will not accept either the blocking of roads or disruption of the ordinary lives of Israelis, by citizens inside the state. In a discussion which went into the night yesterday at my home, I instructed the Minister of Internal Security and the police commanders who, by the way, deserve great compliments for their self-restraint during the demonstrations, but I told them that you have a green light for any action necessary to bring about the rule of law, to preserve public order and to secure freedom of movement for citizens of the state, anywhere in the state”.

Also on the morning of 2 October 2000, the Hebrew daily newspaper Ma’ariv reported that, “Israeli police yesterday were put on the highest level of alert, ‘Paam Gimel,’ typically reserved for wartime use. The Israeli police are now working according to procedures that had been intended for a situation in which a Palestinian state was unilaterally declared. The police claim that the most radical scenarios predicted by these plans have come to pass, namely riots by Israeli Arabs, almost at the heart of the state.”  

Mr. Eizenkot testified before the Commission on 7 November 2001 that the Prime Minister, during the 1 October 2000 meeting at his home, advocated opening the roads blocked by the demonstrations “without reservation.”

Justice Theodore Or: Yes, yes, we… will come to Wadi Ara: “The Prime Minister is for opening Wadi Ara…” And here comes two words, if you could help us, what is written here?

Gadi Eizenkot: Yes, just a second.

Justice Theodore Or: It’s like…“You can not permit”

Professor Shimon Shamir: I…I say to Mr. Eizenkot, a certain picture emerges that on the first of October, if you take the meetings of assessing the situation, the meeting of the first…the government meeting from the first of October where the emphasis of the Prime Minister was that the road should not be closed for a whole day, and thus it should be opened, indeed without reservation, and only on the second of the month, you start to hear some reservations from the fact that people are being injured…

On 2 October 2000, more demonstrators were killed than on any other day of the October protests.

Conflicting Testimonies of Mr. Ben Ami and Mr. Vilk


In his testimony to the Commission’s investigators, Mr. Ben Ami claimed that he asked the police to disarm during the first days of the October 2000 protests. In testimony given before the Commission on 25 October 2001, former Police Chief Vilk contradicted this testimony, saying that Mr. Ben Ami’s request was not serious, and that in any case it came on 9 October 2000, after 13 people had already been killed. Vilk added that many people, including politicians, started to speak, on the record, about restraint, knowing that an investigative body would be convened to investigate the October events.


Justice Theodore Or: If it was on the ninth or a previous date, before this statement, were there any statements by the Minister [of Internal Security] on the excessive use of rubber-coated bullets or live ammunition, or about the harsh effects as a result of the shooting?


Yehuda Vilk: Sir, all of them spoke about restraint from the morning of the third of October. When it was decided to establish a committee many such statements were made for the official records.


Mr. Ben Ami also publicly supported the activity of the police in those days of early October. On 4 October 2000 he was quoted in the Hebrew-language newspaper HaModia as supporting the opening of the Wadi Ara road: “All these Arab demands, even if they are justified, can not be a reason that we, as a state that functions according to the rule of law, should allow blocking of roads and damage to property.”


In the same article, Mr. Ben Ami was also quoted as supporting the action of the police: “The police had no better alternative than balancing between the interests – and the state should know that it can not submit, rather it should defend itself.”


(Numerous police witnesses and demonstrators have testified before the Commission that police actions included the use of live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas. They also confirmed that snipers were posted and shot at demonstrators in Wadi Ara and Nazareth).


‘Storm Wind’ Drill – 6 September 2000


On 6 October 2000, Ha’aretz correspondent Ze’ev Schiff reported on a police drill that was conducted in early September 2000. The drill was conducted at Mr. Barak’s request, with the participation of Mr. Ben Ami. The drill’s scenario required the participants to counter demonstrations by the Palestinian community in Israel, pursuant to a major incident in Jerusalem that had caused many injuries. Schiff reported that:


“The events that occurred during the recent riots in the Arab towns and in mixed cities like Jaffa were accurately anticipated in a drill, called ‘Storm Wind’. The drill, which included many participants, was conducted on 6 September of this year at a police facility in Shfaram. It was conducted by the police, who invited the General Security Service [Shin Bet], the Border Patrol, the Prisons Authority, the Rear Command, the Security Council of the Prime Minister’s office, and the Internal Security Office. The police reported that the idea to conduct a national drill based on a scenario involving rioting among the Arab minority in Israel had been brought forward a few months earlier. At the beginning of July, Prime Minster Ehud Barak talked about the need to examine the various possible reactions among Israeli Arabs if the Palestinian Authority were to unilaterally declare a state… The drill was based on a scenario of sudden riots emerging among the Arab minority following a major incident in Jerusalem, which included many injured Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.”




Mr. Barak and Mr. Ben Ami anticipated the protest demonstrations among the Arab community, both several days before the protests erupted, and a long time before that. They also gave a green light to the police forces to use all necessary means against the demonstrators in order to open roads, even though they knew about the death of one demonstrator and the injury of many others as a result of police conduct. Their duty, as those who are in charge of the police and security forces, was to prevent these forces from killing and injuring the demonstrators. Mr. Barak and Mr. Ben Ami did not fulfill this duty. Their anticipation, their orders, and their omission lead in one direction only: to direct responsibility for the killing of 13 demonstrators and for the injury of hundreds of others.