Israeli police raid Arab TAU students’ homes in search for shooter

In their search for the suspect in the Tel Aviv shooting attack, police are ‘visiting’ the homes and dorms of Palestinian students at Tel Aviv University. Joint List chair asks whether the university gave police info on innocent students.

Israeli police conduct house-to-house searches for the suspect in a shooting that killed two people in central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (Yotam Ronen/
Israeli police conduct house-to-house searches for the suspect in a shooting that killed two people in central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (Yotam Ronen/

As part of the manhunt for Nashat Milhem, the suspect in the deadly Tel Aviv shooting last week, a significant number of young Arab men and women are reporting police raids and searches of their apartments near Tel Aviv University and even in student dormitories.

Muhammad Abdel Kader posted the following status on his Facebook wall Sunday:

New building, 7 stories, 28 apartments, but only one suspicious apartment, apartment 20, 5th floor.

A “soft” knock on the door, police, unfortunately it was expected. Out of the whole building, they came directly to the 5th floor, apartment 20. But it’s random, of course.

It’s no good when Muhammad, Muhammad and Kassem are all sitting together in a cold apartment. Too much “extremism” in one place.

So, IDs; check the apartment;  search everything.

And no, they didn’t go on to search the apartment next door to see if Nashat Milhem was there. They got in the elevator and walked to the closest apartment with an Arab in it. You can use Waze: In 200 meters, an apartment with Arabs on your left.

“I don’t know how they knew that Arabs live in this apartment, Abdel Kader told me. “But I don’t think that they have any particular problem finding us,” he joked wryly.

According to Abdel Kader, the police officers showed up at around 2 in the afternoon on Sunday. They didn’t show him a search warrant or their badges or any identifying documents. The search, according to Abdel Kader, wasn’t aggressive: the police went into each room, asked who lives in the apartment, how much they pay in rent, where they are from, and more questions along those lines.

“I’ve lived here in this apartment for half a year and this was the first time that the police came for any reason. I know at least 13 other cases like this in the area,” he added. Abdel Kader managed to photograph the police cars outside his building before they went on to the next Palestinian home.

Marked and unmarked police cars parked outside Muhammad Abdel Kader’s apartment in Ramat Aviv. (Photo by Muhammad Abdel Kadder)
Marked and unmarked police cars parked outside Muhammad Abdel Kader’s apartment in Ramat Aviv. (Photo by Muhammad Abdel Kadder)

Why are you so sad?

Another of the police “visits” took place Sunday morning in Khavier Sidawi’s apartment, in north Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv neighborhood, where he lives with his cousin. Perhaps on account of the fact that the pair are from Arara, the same village as the suspected shooter, the police were less mannered at Sidawi’s home.

“At around 7 a.m. we woke up to something like 15 cops standing over our beds with rifles drawn,” Sidawi said. This time, the officers didn’t bother knocking. They just broke in. Needless to say, the police officers didn’t present any search warrant or identifying documents this time either.

“They barely let us move, they escorted us to the sink when we went to wash our faces,” Sidawi added. “They also didn’t let me get my phone — they only let me send a message to my work to let them know that I would be late, and even that, they were looking to see what I was writing the whole time.”

According to Sidawi, the officers were later joined by a man in civilian clothing, apparently from the Shin Bet, who interrogated them for about an hour. He also didn’t identify himself to Sidawi or his cousin. The two were asked if they knew the suspected shooter, what they thought about the shooting, what they do for a living, and the like. “When he saw I was getting quiet, he asked me, ‘why are you so sad?’,” Sidawi said.

Yousef Agbarieh, who lives with two roommates originally from Arara, has a similar story. Their Ramat Aviv apartment was searched on Saturday afternoon. A large number of police officers streamed into their home without a search warrant or identifying themselves, went from room to room, asked a few questions, and moved on to the next apartment.

Similar raids and searches were also reported in Tel Aviv University dormitories in which Arab students live. The secretary of the Hadash party at the university, Hassan Masarwa, told +972’s Hebrew-language site that he knows of a significant number of such cases.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said the raids and searches of students at Tel Aviv University raise a number of hard questions about the actions of both the police and the university.

“The police are once again trampling on the rights of Arab citizens and threatening young students in contradiction of every police and legal procedure,” Odeh said.

“There is also the question of whether the university passed along to police information about Arab students,” Odeh added, “even though none of them broke any law nor were they suspected of any crime.”

It is not clear how the police were able to ascertain so quickly which apartments in north Tel Aviv are occupied by young Arabs. Does that mean that Israeli police keep all Arabs living outside of “Arab cities” under some form of surveillance? Does Israel Police consider every Arab suspicious to some degree? When police are searching for a yarmulke-wearing suspect, do they conduct searches of every yarmulke-wearing family in the area? Or is that treatment reserved especially for Palestinian citizens of Israel?

We asked the Tel Aviv district police spokesperson for a response to this story. If and when it is received, it will be appended here.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.