State Prosecution Reopens Case of Arab Teacher Shot Dead by Police

The State Prosecutor asked the Justice Ministry on Tuesday, November 21, to reopen an investigation into the police shooting of a Bedouin teacher during an operation to demolish homes in the unrecognized Negev village of Umm al-Hiran at the beginning of the year.

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was wounded during the protest against house demolitions in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev on January 18, 2017. Here Odeh is holding the sponge-tipped bullet that injured him.

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was wounded during the protest against house demolitions in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev on January 18, 2017. Here Odeh is holding the sponge-tipped bullet that injured him. (Photo: Al Ittihad)

In light of new evidence, the ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID) was told to look at the events surrounding the death of Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, who was slain by police in Umm al-Hiran during a nighttime incident in which his car drove into officers, killing one of them.

The incident was initially ruled “terrorism,” but authorities have indicated since that Abu al-Qee’an likely lost control of the vehicle after being shot and did not intentionally hit the police.

A six-month probe by the PID concluded last August that there was “no indication that the officers had acted criminally in shooting Abu al-Qee’an.” The findings were transferred to the attorney general and the state’s attorney, who have not yet given a final decision on whether to press charges.

Channels 10 and 11 reported Tuesday that the new evidence concerns the shots that killed Abu al-Qee’an and a sponge-tipped bullet that wounded Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List parliamentary faction, during protests against the January 18 home demolitions at Umm al-Hiran.

Newly released video footage of the deadly house demolition operation in the unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev shows police pepper-spraying MK Odeh in the face. On Wednesday, Odeh tweeted that the footage filmed by an Al Jazeera cameraman proved police lied about using force against him and other demonstrators during the protests. “Police attacked us, pepper sprayed us directly in the eyes and then fired stun grenades,” he said. “Unfortunately, the [shooting of the] rubber-tipped bullet that struck and injured me was not recorded.”

Odeh said he was attempting to reach the village to check for casualties after hearing gunshots, but was stopped by police officers. The video shows police arguing with Odeh. An officer is then seen stepping forward and spraying him in the face. Odeh falls back, apparently in pain. According to Hadashot TV news, additional footage then shows police hurling a stun grenade at the lawmaker. Odeh was later injured in the head by a rubber-tipped bullet.

When the new footage became known, Odeh claimed that the “web of lies and incitement by the police and government continues to be exposed. Everything we claimed right from the beginning turns out to be true. Responsibility for the horrible loss suffered by the al-Qee’an and Erez families belongs to (Public Security Minister Gilad) Erdan and (Israel Police Commissioner Roni) Alsheikh, who should have resigned the same day.” Sergeant Major Erez Levy, 34, was the police officer who died after being rammed by al-Quee’an’s out of control car

“Almost a year has passed, and it seems that instead of uncovering the truth and bringing those responsible to justice Internal Affairs is busier with covering up the matter. We continue to demand that an independent committee of inquiry examine the bloody events of Umm al-Hiran from the moment the decision was made to [conduct the nighttime demolition operation] until the tragic aftermath. The only justice we can still offer the al-Qee’an family lies in uncovering the truth, recognizing the village of Umm al-Hiran and allowing the residents to stay on their land. We will continue fighting for that,” Odeh added.

The incident took place in the early morning of January 18 when police arrived to oversee the demolition of homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village, which the state was and still is seeking to remove to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the police asserted that Abu al-Qee’an was a “terrorist inspired by the Islamic State group who was shot after intentionally ramming his vehicle into the officers.” The charge was vehemently denied by Hadash MKs and the victim’s family, who argued that he was shot before his car sped up, leading him to lose control of the vehicle. MK Odeh and activists said police had used excessive force, pointing to what they claimed was institutionalized racism against Arab-Palestinians, including Arab-Bedouin in the Negev.

Related: Posts on Umm al-Hiran