Update: Israel Police Backtrack over Injury to Hadash MK Odeh

When the news came out that MK Ayman Odeh was injured during “clashes” in Umm el-Hiran two weeks ago, shortly after Yaqub Musa Abu Qee’an and police office Erez Levy were killed, almost all Israeli media outlets reported the police claim that Odeh had been wounded by stones, while noting that Odeh himself claimed he was hit by sponge-tipped bullets. No one seemed to care about the very serious allegation that a Knesset member was shot in the face by police for no reason and no one seemed interested in getting to the bottom of it.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) holding the sponge-tipped bullet he says was shot at him by Israeli forces in Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) holding the sponge-tipped bullet he says was shot at him by Israeli forces in Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017 (Photo: Joint List)

As I reported then, Odeh filed a police investigation report and underwent a forensic exam. The findings of the medical examination by the National Center for Forensic Medicine (part of the Israeli Ministry of Health) published Monday, while not conclusive, show that the injury “can be consistent with a bullet wound — in other words an abrasion from a sponge bullet, as the patient claims.” The report does not conclude what caused the injuries to Odeh’s head and back, but does throw into further doubt the police’s version and exposes the police and government’s account to be fraught with lies.

With the release of the report Monday, police spokesperson Luba Samri chose to put out a statement which claimed that due to the general investigation into the car ramming attack, the police could not respond to any information about the incident, but then added, “at no point did the Israel Police specify the circumstances of MK Ayman Odeh’s injury.”

This is a lie. I spoke to police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld on January 19 and asked him directly for his comment on Odeh’s injury, including specifically what caused it and whether he was aware of the fact that people at the scene and MK Odeh himself claimed he had been shot with a sponge-tipped bullet. As I reported already, Rosenfeld told me outright, “it was stones,” adding that the precise details of his injury would be investigated.

This is the same version of events that all Israeli journalists reported in the media and several claim they were briefed as such off the record by police. It was the police’s word against Odeh’s. In addition, on the same day, a Ma’ariv story reported that “the police specified that at no point was there any shooting of sponge-tipped bullets since the police have no such weapons.”

This is also a lie. As I wrote then, police use of black sponged-tipped bullets against Palestinian youth is widely documented — particularly in East Jerusalem, where they have resulted in at least one death. They have also been used already in the Negev, during the protests against the Prawer Plan in Hura.

I contacted Micky Rosenfeld again today (Tuesday) for a response to the fact that he told me Odeh had been wounded by stones, even as his colleagues in the police all claim they never mentioned the cause of Odeh’s injury. He claimed that he originally told me, “During the incident stones were thrown.” He then added that he had said there was no use of rubber bullets, which I never asked him about.

I reminded him that in our previous conversation, he told me the police’s understanding was that Odeh was hit by stones, and that what he was telling me now differed from what he told me two weeks ago. He repeated his statement that “there were reports of stones being thrown at the scene,” which is a revised version of what he said then. But he denied it was different. I then went on to ask whether the police used sponge-tipped bullets at the scene that day and after pausing he said, “the entire subject is being examined.”

This of course contradicts the Maariv report that police claimed sponge-tipped bullets couldn’t have been used because the police don’t carry this weapon. It is also quite bizarre that the police spokesperson is not able to say what means were used on a given day. Asked if the police have a weapon called sponge-tipped bullets, Rosenfeld answered, “of course, so what?”

It is also important to remember that there are several witnesses as well as photos and videos that all support the claim that sponge-tipped bullets were used, including photographs of sponge-tipped bullets from the scene.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who called Odeh a “lawbreaking liar” and has repeatedly incited against him with baseless claims, took to Twitter yesterday to echo the police version, tweeting: “From the beginning the official statement was that there was no way to know what Odeh was injured by.”

I reported this from the very start. But if it is indeed the case that there is no way to prove what injured Odeh, then Erdan should be extremely concerned about the possibility that a Knesset member was shot in the face with a sponge-tipped bullet when he did not present any threat — even if he did, as Erdan claims, incite the protests there. But this kind of rhetoric does not exist for the Israeli authorities.

Mairav Zonszein


The above report was originally published by the website +972, yesterday, January 31, 2017.