Nine Police Officers Questioned over Attack on MK Ayman Odeh

Nine police officers have been questioned under caution on suspicion they helped to cover up an alleged assault on a Hadash lawmaker during a deadly police operation at an unrecognized Arab-Bedouin community in January of this year. The officers, including a superintendent, were questioned Tuesday night, November 28, by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID).

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017.

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Photo: Israel Police)

Some of the police who were questioned are suspected of disrupting an investigation into the incident because they did not report that Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was injured in the clash. They are also suspected of lying during earlier probes into the events of last January, Haaretz reported Wednesday, November 29. The superintendent was released to three days of house arrest; the other eight officers were released unconditionally.

New footage published last week of a deadly home demolition in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran earlier in the year shows police pepper-spraying MK Odeh in the face. Odeh tweeted that the footage filmed by an Al Jazeera cameraman proved that the police had lied about using force against him and other demonstrators during protests that erupted the hours after a local teacher, Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, 47, was shot dead by police in what the authorities initially contended was a terrorist car-ramming, which left one police officer dead.

In light of the new evidence, the PID was instructed to once again look into the events surrounding the death of Abu al-Qee’an, who was fatally shot by police in Umm al-Hiran during a nighttime incident in which his car plowed into officers killing one of them, First Sergeant Erez Lev, 34.

During their questioning the police officers were asked to identify the officer seen in the video spraying Odeh, but claimed they were unable to do so because there were many officers from different units deployed on the scene. PID investigators suspect that the police are covering for each other, the Haaretz report said.

In a statement, Odeh said that the delays in completing the investigation cast doubts on the sincerity of the PID’s efforts to discover the truth of what really happened. “We have no faith in the PID investigation and the fact that the police are only being investigated now, 10 months later, and only after the information that we uncovered, shows that the PID isn’t at all interested in trying to uncover what happened in Umm al-Hiran, and is acting to cover up the police responsibility for the tragic death of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qee’an and Erez Levi.”

Odeh demanded that police reveal all video footage from the events at Umm al-Hiran. “We will continue a determined campaign to uncover the truth,” he vowed.” The injured lawmaker, whose head was bandaged the morning after the clash with police, was also hit with a rubber-tipped police bullet, but investigators did not question the officers about that allegation, according to Haaretz.

Authorities initially claimed that the incident was a deliberate act of terrorism, but subsequently admitted that Abu Al-Qee’an likely lost control of his vehicle after first being shot, and did not intentionally hit the officers. However, on Tuesday of this week, the questioned police continued to maintain that the ramming “was deliberate.”

In the video circulated last week, Odeh is seen confronting a group of police when one of them sprays him in the face. Haaretz reported that the Investigations Department received the video in April but that the State Prosecution only asked to reopen an earlier probe of the incident last week in light of a document written by the “Shin Bet,” Israel’s internal security service.

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