Netanyahu “Apologizes” to Family of Arab-Bedouin Wrongfully Killed by Police; Draws Parallel to Himself

More than three and a half years after the police killing of the Arab-Bedouin school teacher Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an, 47, far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly apologized during a press conference on Tuesday, September 8, to the victim’s family, a day after Israel’s Channel 12 News presented correspondence between senior law enforcement officials revealing misconduct in the shooting and its subsequent investigation. “I would like to express, in my name, my apologies to the Al-Qee’an family. They [the police] said he was a terrorist. Yesterday, it turned out that he wasn’t a terrorist,” Netanyahu said.

However, in a self-serving, cynical spin to the entire incident and the admission of police error and attempted coverup, Israel’s prime minister outrageously used the overwhelming majority of Tuesday’s press conference purportedly convened to discuss the coronavirus crisis to draw a parallel between police malfeasance in the handling of the Abu al-Qee’an investigation and his own alleged victimization at the hands of law enforcement officials in his three indictments for corruption. Netanyahu went as far as to say that “something astonishing became apparent here: There are politicized investigations; investigations that were polluted from the first moment, sowing cases whose goals are to overthrow an incumbent prime minister.”

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was among the pallbearers carrying the body of Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an to his grave on January 24, 2017, near the village of Umm al-Hiran. Contrary to Muslim tradition requiring immediate burial of a corpse, the funeral was delayed by nearly a week as Israel's Police Force refused to release al-Qee'an's body as part of its punishment for the alleged "terrorist's" family.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash, center) was among the pallbearers carrying the body of Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an to his grave on January 24, 2017, near the village of Umm al-Hiran. Contrary to Muslim tradition requiring immediate burial of a corpse, the funeral was delayed by nearly a week as Israel’s Police Force refused to release al-Qee’an’s body as part of its punishment for the alleged “terrorist’s” family. (Photo: Joint List)

Yaqoub Abu al-Qee’an was shot by police officers on January 18, 2017, when officers arrived to oversee the pre-demolition evacuation of houses in his home village of Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Bedouin village that the state was razing to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

Following the egregious shooting death of the school teacher and community leader, then-Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich and then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan declared that Abu al-Qee’an was a terrorist and alleged that he belonged to the Islamic State. On Monday night of this week, September 7, Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal broadcast a report revealing that Shai Nitzan, the state attorney at the time, had suppressed evidence that would have challenged Alsheich’s assertion that Abu al-Qee’an was a terrorist. Nitzan reportedly sent a secret email, agreeing that Alsheikh’s “behavior was unacceptable,” but refused to publicly correct the police chief’s statements, saying it would “only benefit those desiring to harm the law enforcement establishment.” According to Nitzan, “the commissioner did act in a scandalous manner, but there are state interests that need to be taken into account.” In his rant against the police and the the state attorney at Tuesday’s news conference, Netanyahu said that in the past he has claimed that there are failures in the work of the police and state prosecutors, “but people said: ‘God forbid the media will expose such failures because then Netanyahu’s claims [of law-enforcement agencies’ malfeasance towards himself] will be backed up.”’  “But,” Netanyahu continued, “it’s much worse than what I’ve said here; because the PID [Police Investigations Division] indeed wanted to look into the al-Qee’an incident, but Shai Nitzan, the state attorney, refused to do so. He buried it.”

Hadash, family and friends of Abu al-Qee’an had from the start challenged Israeli authorities’ claim that the slain educator was a terrorist, as soon as it was made on the same day of his death, and accused Netanyahu’s government of political deceit and incitement. Joint List chairman, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), who was injured by police at Umm al-Hiran just hours after the wrongful shooting death of Abu al-Qee’an, said this week that he plans to submit a request for a special investigative committee to be formed in the Knesset to look into the police’s handling of the Abu al-Qee’an killing, but adds that the “blame game is not a zero sum game” and that just because Alsheich and Nitzan acted inappropriately, these findings “don’t exonerate Netanyahu.”

“Netanyahu and his associates were the ones who turned Abu al-Qee’an into a ‘terrorist’ — them and their racist incitement against Arabs,” said Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash).”If Netanyahu really wants to apologize, he has only one option — to resign.”

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said Tuesday night it had decided to petition the High Court of Justice in the name of the Al-Qee’an family in order to reopen the investigation of the incident.

“An apology is not enough in order to cause [police] accountability for the unlawful actions that led to the death of an innocent person,” Adalah responded to the reports and Israel Police’s comments.

“We will continue our endeavor to reopen the investigation [of the incident] and bring all those responsible to justice, starting with police’s chain of command, through the one who opened fire at al-Qee’an and to the officers and medical professionals that left him to bleed out to death,” Adalah continued. “Twenty years after the October 2000 events, the same patterns of police brutality, cover-ups and the use of the military against civilians have not changed whatsoever,” a statement by the NGO said.

“The information reported yesterday only confirms that law enforcement was guided by unrelated interests when closing the investigation,” Adalah contended. “We also see the political establishment, with the prime minister at its head, as directly responsible for these incidents by outlining policy, continuous incitement and the decision-making process that preceded the events.” Hence, said Adalah, “today’s apology cannot replace measures that would establish accountability and justice.”

The center added that it petitioned the court to charge former Public Security Minister, today Israel’s Ambassador to the UN and the US, Gilad Erdan, as well as Israel Police, the PID and Nitzan, seeing them all at fault of “serious misconduct.”

Related: Posts on the planned evacuation and destruction of Umm el-Hiran and the callous and wrongful shooting death of Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an