The Police Internal Investigation Unit (“Machash”) within Israel’s Ministry of Justice re-enacted on Wednesday evening, March 15, the events that led up to the shooting death of Yaqoub Abu al-Qee’an by Israeli police during a January 18 demolition raid in the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. In the raid a police officer was killed and Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was injured by police fire.
Immediately following the incident, a number of claims and counter-claims were made over the circumstances of the killing. The police and Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan contended that 47-year-old Abu al-Qee’an, a local math teacher, was driving toward police without his headlights on ostensibly with the intention of committing a car-ramming attack against the Israeli forces. However, a video released by Al-Jazeera last month clearly shows that Abu al-Qee’an in fact had his headlights on before his car rammed into a group of police, killing one policeman. At the same time, various eyewitnesses reported that Israeli police fired at Abu al-Qee’an, who was driving normally, causing him to loose control of his car and crash into the Israeli officers. Family members also firmly denied that Abu al-Qee’an had intended to carry out an attack and refuted claims by Erdan and police spokespersons that the so-called Islamic State had “influenced the man.”
Israeli police footage released in January by the newspaper Haaretz also appeared to show police officers shooting at Abu al-Qian as he was driving slowly, and only several seconds after the gunfire does his car appear to accelerate, ultimately plowing into police officers, thereby casting doubt on the original claim by authorities that the car-ramming was intentional.
During Wednesday night’s reenactment, Israeli authorities used Abu al-Qee’an’s white Toyota SUV with the headlights turned on. “Machash” reportedly said they conducted the reenactment in an “attempt to clarify the reason why Israeli policemen opened fire on Abu al-Qian.” According to the Ma’an news agency, the Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (Musawa) had previously appealed to “Machash,” demanding that it reenact the events and conduct an examination of the police weapons used in the incident in an independent lab. Musawa had also submitted to “Machash” a list of eyewitnesses and complainants about Israeli police violence that took place during the demolition of 12 homes in Umm al-Hiran, on the same day that Abu al-Qee’an was killed.
The outrage following Abu al-Qee’an’s shooting death by police and the violent raid in Umm al-Hiran, as well as home demolitions in the Arab town of Qalansawe in central Israel whichtook place a week earlier (January 10), have focused the spotlight on the issue of home demolitions in Israel since the beginning of the year. Hadash, the Communist Party of Israel, the Joint List in the Knesset and rights groups have meanwhile claimed that the demolitions in Arab-Bedouin villages is a central policy of the state, aimed at removing the Bedouin population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish communities. Umm al-Hiran is one of 35 Arab-Bedouin villages considered “unrecognized” by the state in the Negev (there are several others in northern Israel), in which more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside. The Joint List in the Knesset has described the actions by Israeli authorities as “a terroristic and bloody invasion that brings to mind the scenes of displacement and destruction of Arab villages during the Nakba in 1948.”