Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) heard a petition on Thursday, September 9, to reopen the state prosecution’s probe into the handling of the deadly incident that occurred in the southern Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. During the incident two persons were killed: a local resident Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an, 47 and a policeman, Sergeant Major Erez Levy, 34.
During violent clashes a number of other persons were injured, among them MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), leader of the Joint List. Odeh was hit in the head and back by sponge-tipped bullets fired by Israeli forces during the protests. Odeh later related how “Policemen jumped me, beat me up, brutally shot at me.” In September 2018, the case against police officers suspected of assaulting Odeh was closed by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. MK Odeh participated in last Thursday’s hearing at the HCJ.
Leading the petition submitted by multiple human rights organizations, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) highlighted that in September 2020, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused former chief prosecutor Nitzan of covering up the incident. The thrust of Netanyahu’s claims was likely more part of a broader strategy to paint the prosecution as political in a way that would assist him to delegitimize the ongoing public corruption indictment against him.
However, PCATI and one of its co-petitioners, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, have argued that based on the individual criticisms of the police probe of the incident by both Netanyahu as well as of former Police Investigations Department head Uri Carmel, there is sufficient justification to reopen the case and reach different conclusions.
Netanyahu’s criticism of the police probe was in response to a Channel 12 report that revealed embarrassing internal emails between Nitzan and Carmel in which they condemned the behavior of then-police chief Roni Alsheich for allegedly trying to provide cover for his officers. In May 2018, Nitzan decided to close the criminal probes into the deaths of the Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an who was shot dead by police and the killed police officer Levy who was rammed by the former’s car.
Nitzan said that after reviewing additional evidence from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), neither he nor the agency could determine whether terror motives were involved on the part of the Abu al-Qee’an. In Thursday’s hearing, PCATI continued to press for the case to be reopened on a number of grounds.
Not only do the petitioning organizations want the police role reinvestigated and the name of Yaqoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an cleared from any ambiguity of being a terrorist, but they have also flagged problems with the police’s failure to administer medical care to him in an attempt to save his life.