No charges will be filed against the Israeli police officers who in November shot and killed a man in an Arab village in the Galilee, allegedly after he tried to stab them with the knife he was holding.
The death of Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, 22, in Kafr Kana on November 8, 2014, sparked demonstrations and violent clashes at Israeli universities and throughout northern Israel.
Uri Carmel, the head of the Justice Ministry department that investigates police officers, led the probe. At a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday with lawyers for Hamdan’s family, Carmel told them of the department’s decision. The family had pressed for criminal charges against the officers.
"The Police Internal Investigations Department's decision is a green light for the next murder of an Arab citizen by the police," Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told Haaretz. "Even in an extremely serious case of killing that is clearly documented, the Police Internal Investigations Department finds ways to back the crime committed by the police officers, instead of conducting a professional and independent investigation."
The Hamdan family said in response that should the decision stand, they would petition Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and even the High Court to see it overturned.
"This decision is erroneous and simply cannot be accepted by the family," said Ahmed Amara, one of the Hamdan's lawyers.
Abed Araaf, Hamdan's father, echoed the sentiment, vowing they would continue their search for justice. "We will not give up and will continue our struggle. It is impossible to accept (this decision) when you see an unjustified shooting, especially when your son's back is turned to the police – who shot him and threw him into the patrol car as if he was some animal, and they want us to accept this ruling?"
In addition to the Adalah center, the family has also contacted the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
MK Esawi Frij said the decision constituted "spitting in face of the law, of Israeli democracy and Arab society."
When the incident became public, the policemen said Hamdan had tried to stab them. They said they fired a warning shot into the air and shot at Hamdan when he failed to stop, in believing that their lives were in danger.
But a widely viewed video from security cameras in the vicinity suggests that the officers did not observe protocols regarding the use of fire. In the video, the young man later identified as Hamdan is seen approaching the patrol car and stabbing at it with what appears to be a knife. A police officer then emerges from the car. Hamdan is seen running away from the vehicle and the officer appears to shoot at him.
The officer who shot Hamdan, apparently the driver of the police car, is not seen in the video until Hamdan falls to the ground. No firing in the air is seen.
Carmel’s team also investigated the officers’ conduct after Hamdan was hit. In the video they are seen dragging him, alive but wounded, into the patrol car instead of calling an ambulance or trying to treat him at the scene.
The Walla website reported that the police officer who shot Hamdan claimed under questioning that he hadn’t aimed at Hamdan’s upper body, but at the hand holding the knife, in an effort to neutralize him.
“The bullet, unfortunately, hit the young man in the waist and caused severe bleeding from his artery, which ultimately led to his death,” he was quoted as saying. Hamdan died of his injuries at Haemek Hospital in Afula.
According to the report on Walla, during questioning the police officers said the reason they feared for their lives was that the area was problematic, which is why they dragged Hamdan to the patrol car and didn’t call for medical help. They said they feared that other village residents would come to attack them.
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said in November that the Israel Police would conduct its own investigation of police conduct in the incident only after the Justice Ministry completed its probe.
Officers from the Nazareth police station were initially called to Kafr Kana after midnight on November 8 to arrest a man who allegedly had thrown a stun grenade during a family dispute, when Hamdan approached their vehicle wielding a knife and tried to stab them, according to the officers.
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