Israel Police Officer Admits to Shooting at Crowd During Raid That Killed Bedouin Man

Autopsy shows Sami al-Ja'ar, 20, was hit in waist; police officer, who changed his story several times during questioning, is placed under house arrest.

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A banner in memory of Bedouin youth Sami al-Ja'ar, who was killed in a police raid, January 18, 2015.
A banner in memory of Bedouin youth Sami al-Ja'ar, who was killed in a police raid, January 18, 2015. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Sami al-Ja’ar, a 20-year-old Bedouin who was killed during an Israel Police raid on drug dealers last month, died from blood loss after he was hit by police fire near his waist, according to the autopsy report. The autopsy contradicted testimony from police officers who participated in the raid in the Negev town of Rahat, who claimed that they only shot their weapons in the air in order to disperse crowds that had formed.

According to police reports, residents of the Bedouin town of Rahat threw stones and clubs at police officers during their raid last month, and attempted to free the apprehended suspects, prompting the officers to open fire in an effort to disperse the crowds. Three police officers were injured in the incident. Seven officers from the Rahat police station, whose names were dispersed on social media after the incident, have been facing threats against themselves and their families ever since.

The officer accused of being involved in al-Ja’ar’s shooting was released from custody on Tuesday, and was transferred to house arrest for the next five days. The officer said during questioning that the intense pressure of the situation prompted him to fire at the crowd during the incident. The suspect changed his account of the events numerous times during questioning, and even issued a false report stating that his weapon misfired during the incident. He relayed his final version of the story to investigators only after he was given a polygraph test. The officer’s name has not been released for publication for fear of possible threats against him and his family.

The Israel Police’s internal affairs department is expected to decide whether or not to indict the officer within the coming days, and is considering charging him with negligent homicide. Because the officer does not constitute a danger to the public, he has not been placed under prolonged remand.

President Reuven Rivlin, who visited al-Ja’ar’s family on Wednesday morning, said “I express my condolences to the bereaved families. We must do everything in our power to ensure that incidents such as these do not repeat themselves. I have been in contact with the mayor and the police in order to receive updates about the investigation I believe that the investigators are working responsibly to provide a clear image of what happened. Despite the sorrow, which knows no end, all of us Jews and Arabs, must be patient until the investigation is complete. We must not take the law into our own hands.”

When the officer was arrested last week, Khaled al-Ja’ar, the victim’s father, told Haaretz that “every citizen must demand that the law be applied to this officer, as well as to all the commanders and officers that backed him up,” adding “internal affairs told me they covered for one another. You can expect that from criminals, but not police officers. A police officer must take responsibility for his actions and I hope that he will do so. Nothing justifies shooting and murder. ”

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