As New Details Emerge in 2017 Police Killing, Israel's Justice Minister Calls to Probe Misconduct

Avi Nissenkorn announces committee to look into police actions in Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran ■ Former police commissioner says Netanyahu 'doesn't believe his own apology' to shooting victim's family

Netael Bandel
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Police next to the vehicle of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, on the day of the incident in 2017.
Police next to the vehicle of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, on the day of the incident in 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Netael Bandel

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn has asked on Sunday for a probe into the actions of law enforcement agencies following the 2017 police killing of a Bedouin teacher in his village of Umm al-Hiran, in the wake of new revelations in the case.

At the time, authorities claimed that Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was shot dead following a car-ramming attack, and senior officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called him a terrorist. Since the shooting, a number of assessments have been published that there had been no terror attack and that Abu al-Kiyan was innocent, but several reports in recent days exposed alleged misconduct in authorities' handling of the investigation.

Netanyahu apologized last week to Abu al-Kiyan’s family for the first time since his death. Netanyahu said, based on a Channel 12 News report, that “senior officials in the prosecution and the police” had determined that Abu al-Kiyan was a terrorist to protect their reputation. Netanyahu added it was done "to harm me," as he faces a trial in three corruption cases.

According to that report, former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan had prevented steps from being taken against then-Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, although according to the head of the unit that investigates police misconduct at the time, Uri Carmel, Alsheich had leaked information about the investigation to the press.

On Sunday, Alsheich told Ynet news website that even Netanyahu “doesn’t believe what he said” in apologizing to Abu al-Kiyan’s family. Alsheich added that he will not take back his statement that Abu al-Kiyan ran over police officer Erez Levi, who also died in the incident, and that Netanyahu never spoke to him on the matter.

Alsheich called Netanyahu's remarks "fake news campaign," and argued the prime minister "is acting like a wounded animal. He’s protecting himself. Those around him are cooperating and playing the game, they don’t believe him." 

Former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, in 2016.
Former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, in 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

He rejected the claim of a connection between the Umm al-Hiran affair and the investigation into Netanyahu that led to his indictment.

Justice Minister Nissenkorn asked the ombudsman for complaints against state representatives to the courts, retired Judge David Rosen, to look into the actions of the state prosecution and the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct. 

"Alongside unqualified defense of the independence of the law enforcement system, I am obligated to examine every relevant criticism professionally and impartially," Nissenkorn said. "Make no mistakes: Any attempt to connect the tragic event at Umm al-Hiran with conspiracy theories is unrealistic and shameful."

Nissenkorn said that the decision was made together with Economy and Industry Minister Amir Peretz to establish a committee of ministry director generals to examine the evacuation of the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran, which led to the clashed during which Abu al-Kiyan was killed. A statement from Nissenkorn’s office said that the team will put together recommendations for solutions for people evacuated from the village. “In addition to a system-wide check, we must make sure that the people evacuated from the village can rehabilitate their lives as well as possible,” he said.

As Haaretz reported, a Shin Bet security service agent at the scene, who investigated the incident, believed that it was not a terror attack and it had occurred due to an operational failure by the police. Officials in the Justice Ministry unit also believe that there had been no terror attack, but this was not officially published. In 2018, the prosecution announced that it had closed the case because the nature of the incident could not be deemed a terror attack.

Meanwhile, Haaretz uncovered other elements of failures in the affair, including the shooting of Abu al-Kiyan, and leaving him to die at the scene, and investigative materials leading to the conclusion that this was not a terror attack. At the beginning of the year, two years after Nitzan ordered the case against police officers involved in the incident closed, Abu al-Kiyan’s family petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the police officers involved be investigated and tried.

Officer Levi was run over when the jeep driven by Abu al-Kiyan was shot at by police and then hit a group of officers. To this day, on the Prime Minister’s Office memorial website Amedi is described as the victim of a car ramming.

Over the years, former Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan described the incident in various ways, some of which turned out to be mistaken: At first he fully backed the police. Then about a year later, he said he had no information that would counter the police claim that Abu al-Kiyan had intentionally run Amedi Levi over and that at that point there was no reason to apologize. Three months later he said: “In my feelings there is a higher likelihood that this was a car ramming.”

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