Hundreds of men from Druze Arab villages on the occupied Golan Heights protested on Wednesday against Israeli plans to set up a wind farm, some facing off with riot police in an unusually violent confrontation that injured several people.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized by most world powers. Ties between the Israeli state and the plateau’s Druze community, whose members profess loyalty to Damascus, are generally placid.
Yet the Druze have complained of bureaucratic neglect by Israel. The erection of several wind turbines is viewed by the Golan villagers as an encroachment.
Saying he was monitoring events “with gravity and concern,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned Druze leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif for talks, according to the premier’s office.
Earlier, as protesters burned tires on a road in Buqata village and, in a nearby orchard, threw rocks at police from behind makeshift shields, Tarif had told Ynet news agency: “The writing was on the wall.”
Video distributed by police showed them firing tear gas and using a high-pressure water hose against the Druze protesters.
Police said protests shut down roads in northern Israel as well as the Golan. That suggested some of Israel’s Druze citizens - who make up 1.5 percent of the population and have representation in its military and public office - were among the demonstrators.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the government was moving ahead on a “major plan” to redress Druze complaints. But, he added in a statement, there was no justifying violence against a wind farm being lawfully built.
Medics said two people were evacuated for treatment in the confrontations. Police said several officers were injured.