The Public Committee against Torture in Israel is appealing the investigation by Israel’s police force of its officers’ conduct during a home demolition in the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in January 2017, and requesting that the probe be reopened.
According to Zu Haderech, the Hebrew-language Communist weekly, the appeal is based on a new independent report prepared by a forensic criminologist who found that police did not interrogate all officers who were carrying sponge-tipped bullets on site on the day of the incident, and failed to thoroughly review their own footage of the shooting of the chairman of the Joint List and Hadash, MK Ayman Odeh.
In the early morning hours of January 18, 2017, hundreds of police officers raided the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. During the raid, officers shot and killed Yaqoub Abu al-Qee’an, an Arab-Bedouin teacher and resident of the village who had just started driving his car. Abu al-Qee’an subsequently careened into a group of Israeli police officers, killing one of them, Erez Levy. Moments after shooting Abu al-Qee’an, police fired tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at MK Ayman Odeh and other activists who tried to get closer to the fatally wounded resident.
In its letter to the Police Internal Investigations Department, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel claims that the previous investigation was “blundered” and that police deliberately targeted the Joint List chair, and therefore his shooting should be investigated “as a serious criminal offense.”
The 50-page report is based on materials that the Police Internal Investigations Department itself had collected, in addition to other publicly available evidence that investigators failed to look into. In one video, for example, a green dot appears on Odeh’s forehead — likely a laser beam used when aiming firearms at a target — moments before officers fired at him with a sponge-tipped bullet.
Odeh suffered wounds in his head and back as a result. He filed a complaint with the Police Internal Investigations Department, accusing officers of aggravated assault and unlawful use of a weapon, but the case was closed in September 2018. According to the police report: “Even [granting] the assumption that the object that hit [Odeh] was fired by police, it could not be determined which of the officers had done so.” In March 2019, Odeh appealed the closing of the case through the auspices of the Public Committee against Torture in Israel. Last month, after the committee received additional evidence, it filed it detailed investigative report as a supplement to the appeal.
“There is so much material that the police either didn’t use or failed to check its relevance to the investigation; this is a serious problem,” said Dr. Ariel Livneh, the forensic criminologist who reviewed the case for the Public Committee against Torture in Israel. “It’s akin to overlooking fingerprints on a knife at a murder scene. It’s such a gaffe that in itself it requires reopening the case.”
“It is reasonable to assume that police didn’t arbitrarily fire a sponge-tipped bullet at the crowd, but deliberately aimed at MK Odeh’s head,” says the report. They add that if aiming at Odeh’s head was indeed intentional, it could have ended with his death, which “turns the case into one that requires a serious criminal investigation.”
“The way the investigation was handled and the closing of the case are proof that the police treat Arabs as enemies, not as citizens. This was no less than an assassination attempt. We will fight the systemic cover-up efforts by police for the Arab community and every citizen of the state,” said Odeh.
Attorney Noa Levy, from the Public Committee against Torture in Israel said, “The Police Internal Investigations Department led a careless investigation typical of it: it refrained from questioning the relevant officers; did not collect all available evidence; and did not analyze evidence as thoroughly as it could have.” Levy added: “We demand that police reopen the case and prosecute the officers responsible for the fatal shooting [of Yaqoub Abu al-Qee’an], and for firing stun grenades and tear gas towards a sitting member of parliament.”