“I want justice for my son. If he had killed a Jew, they would have accused him of terrorism and destroyed our home and life. The killer saw that my son was an Arab, so he thought that killing an Arab was easy.”
These were the words of Zuhur Omari, the mother of 19-year-old Palestinian citizen Diyar Omari from the village of Sandala in northern Israel, who was shot and killed on Saturday by Denis Mukin at the entrance to Gan Ner, a nearby Jewish community settlement, during what police are calling a “road rage” dispute.
Mukin reportedly claimed that he had tried to overtake Omari, who refused to yield to him, and that Omari had repeatedly accelerated and braked to antagonize him. Video footage captured by onlookers shows Mukin confronting Omari, pulling him out of his car, and scuffling on the side of a road; it then shows Omari running back to his car, before Mukin opened fire at him.
Israeli police arrested Mukin shortly after the incident, accusing him of either intentionally killing Omari or negligent homicide. Mukin is further being accused of driving on a suspended license, driving under the influence of alcohol, and obstruction of the investigation. He reportedly has a license to carry a firearm, but according to a police source, the license barred him from possession of the weapon while drunk. On Sunday, the Nazareth Magistrates’ Court extended his detention by a week.
“Just two days ago we celebrated Diyar’s birthday,” said Zuhur. “He was a kind and sensitive young man. He told me that he wanted to upload a picture of me and him on his WhatsApp, but that he would rather not because there are people who have lost their mothers, and he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. He kissed me on the forehead before he left. They brought him back dead.”
Omari was killed near the gate to Gan Ner, where a guard is stationed. Sandala’s residents say that if Mukin felt in danger, as he claimed, it is not clear why he didn’t simply drive home. Omari’s relatives pointed out that in the video recording of the shooting, Mukin is seen physically removing Omari from the latter’s car, and shooting when Omari’s back was turned while trying to run back to the vehicle.
Despite an assessment by Israeli police that Omari’s killing was not politically or nationalistically-motivated, there is an overwhelming sense among Palestinian citizens that Mukin, who had just finished his army reserve service, was quick to use his weapon as a result of the hyper-nationalist, anti-Arab atmosphere that has fermented in recent years. This atmosphere, they say, has been especially encouraged by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who recently called on Israeli civilians to bear arms and for reservists to be allowed to carry guns without a special license.
‘Imagine if it hadn’t been recorded on video?’
Omari’s funeral, which took place on Sunday afternoon in Sandala, was attended by thousands from the village and all over the north. The procession left from the Omari family home to the village cemetery, adjacent to the homes of Gan Ner, with policemen stationed at the entrance to the settlement.
Ahmad Omari, Diyar’s father, welcomed the thousands who came to mourn his son. He said that Diyar worked with him in agriculture and that he had recently finished building Diyar’s house. Ahmad added that on the morning of his killing, his son wanted to go for a hike on the nearby Mount Gilboa, and due to the traffic jams from Jalama checkpoint, he preferred to drive through Gan Ner. That’s where he ran into Mukin.
“This killer easily pulled the trigger even though Diyar tried to flee, as everyone clearly saw,” said Ahmad. “Diyar tried to get back into the car, and the cowardly killer decided to kill him.”
The Gilboa Regional Council is one of the few regional councils in Israel that includes both Jewish and Palestinian localities. Since the murder, the council has been trying to maintain calm, sending mental health professionals to the various communities.
Oved Nour, the head of the council, expressed his condolences to the Omari family and said he is ready to provide any assistance. According to Nour, Omari’s murder was a crime that resulted from an argument. “It is an obscene act, but it should not affect the coexistence that has existed in Gilboa for decades,” he said.
The High Follow-Up Committee, an umbrella organization that coordinates activities of the various political parties and bodies among Palestinian citizens of Israel, held a meeting in Sandala before the funeral, in which it called for mass demonstrations all over the country, including erecting a protest tent in Jerusalem and a protest in Tel Aviv.
“We are seeing Arab blood flow both because of the racist statements of government ministers, and because of organized crime [in Palestinian society], which has become unbearable,” said Mohammad Barakeh, chairman of the Committee. “Everyone knows that the state can deal with these issues, but it is not interested in doing so.”
Ahmad, Diyar’s father, echoed this view. “Imagine what would have happened if the crime had not been recorded on video?” he asked. “They would have changed the whole story, like they did with Mohammed Alasibi in Jerusalem: [the police] killed [Alasibi] in the place with the most security cameras, then they said that the event was not recorded, and they made up a story accusing him of terrorism. I am sure that if this had not been recorded, they would accuse Diyar of terrorism.
“This criminal did what the state asked him to do,” Ahmad continued. “[Ben Gvir] literally asked Jews to carry weapons and have their finger on the trigger — and that’s exactly what he did. He was a soldier who was obeying orders.”
“I don’t know how I will continue my life,” he lamented. “A Jewish terrorist killed my son, whom I saw grow day by day alongside his sisters, in cold blood.”
A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.