Shooting of Bedouin Youth Last Week May Have Been Illegal, Official Says

Lives of the police were in real danger, says senior policeman, amid continuation of clashes, six days after shooting death of Sami al-Ja’ar.

Shirly Seidler
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Policemen in Rahat, Jan. 21, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Shirly Seidler

A senior Justice Ministry official said on Tuesday there was “a tangible suspicion” that the police illegally opened fire when they killed Sami al-Ja’ar, a Bedouin youth, during a drug arrest in the Negev town of Rahat last week.

The senior official in the ministry department that investigates the police told Haaretz the case was very complex and had received high priority.

Clashes resumed on Tuesday evening when about 200 young men gathered in Rahat’s main square, burned tires and threw them at the police. They also threw stones at officers, who during the clashes arrested four minors, one of whom was lightly injured by a stone. It was the third day of violence.

The police said that for two days now they had not used crowd-dispersal methods, on the orders of the commander of the police’s southern district, Maj. Gen. Yoram Halevi.

In the morning a tense quiet had prevailed in Rahat, which entered the sixth day of a general strike after the shooting death of Sami al-Ja’ar last Wednesday during the drug arrest. At a protest at al-Ja’ar’s funeral on Sunday, 45-year-old Sami Ziadna died of an apparent heart attack after inhaling tear gas during clashes with the police.

On Tuesday afternoon protesters marched from the home of the al-Ja’ar family to the home of the Ziadna family. Around 2,000 people took part, led by Arab public figures. The marchers carried torches and Palestinian flags and called for revenge of the two deaths.

Halevi said last night his people had intelligence that youths “were approaching the police station and would try today what they have been trying for the past few days: to injure police.”

Halevi was speaking for the first time on al-Ja’ar’s death.

“A detective unit had done preliminary work and documented large-scale drug trafficking,” Halevi said. “At a certain point [the unit] was making an arrest and caught the dealer and others at the site with drugs . A crowd noticed the police and called on all residents to come and disrupt the arrest.”

Halevi said al-Ja’ar’s father had arrived at the scene with iron rods and struck officers.

He said Sami al-Ja’ar was arrested while sitting in a car with suspected drug dealers, that his father had come to free him and that a crowd threw stones to try to free the suspected dealers.

Halevi said the police heard gunshots, adding: “The city of Rahat is not stingy in the use of weapons.”

He said the police fired in the air in order to extricate themselves. Reinforcements sent in to aid the surrounded force were delayed “and the incident rolled on until the death of the wounded man.”

Regarding al-Ja’ar’s funeral Monday in which Ziadna was killed and more than 20 people were injured, one seriously, Halevi said a police patrol car “shouldn’t have entered that road. Still, there are cases when things don’t happen the way we want them to.”

Halevi said he had appointed a team to investigate the incident, “but it can’t be that for the past three days everyone is talking about the people killed as if the police had struck them on purpose.”

He denied that the police had agreed not to go near the funeral. “There is no agreement not to enter Rahat,” he said. “We decide whether to enter or not.”

According to Halevi, “An enraged crowd damaged the police vehicle and put the lives of the police in real danger maybe 2,000 or 3,000 stone-throwers. The police were threatened and called for help.”

He added, however, that “most people are moderate and want police services.” Halevi said extremists included both “young men” and “leaders from here and the north,” and that the police saw leaders inciting the crowd in a bid to harm officers.

He said the police would hold a dialogue in order to end the clashes.

Rahat mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban announced the strike's termination late on Tuesday.

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