The case against police officers suspected of assaulting MK Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, during the planned eviction of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran in January 2017 has been closed, with the approval of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.
Keren Bar Menachem, the head of the Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating police officers, informed Odeh of the decision on Thursday evening.
The case alleging that Odeh was pepper sprayed by police was closed for a “lack of guilt,” meaning investigators concluded no crime was committed, and the case in which Odeh claimed he was hit in the head and injured by a sponge-tipped bullet was closed for lack of evidence.
Odeh claimed his head injury came from a sponge-tipped bullet fired by police during the planned eviction of the illegally-built Bedouin encampment's residents, while the police said Odeh was hit in the head by a rock thrown by the protestors at police but hit Odeh instead. The evacuation of the community did not take place at the time because of the violent protests, in which a police officer, Erez Levi, and a Bedouin resident of the community, Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, were killed.
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Bar Menachem’s decision was based on the fact that the police thought at the time that the attack that killed Levi was a terrorist attack and in order to keep Odeh and the people with him from advancing, the use of pepper spray “was not a crime given the circumstances because of the operational necessity to prevent the undesirable and unauthorized entry to the scene of the incident.” In addition, even though the police officers said they had used tear gas grenades, the Justice Ministry investigators were unable to prove that this led to an intentional injury to Odeh.
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Over 20 police officers were questioned in the case. A number of them, including an officer with the rank of superintendent, were suspected of obstructing the investigation after they provided other police officers with information on the case before they were questioned. These matters were referred to the police’s internal disciplinary department.
Odeh said in response on Thursday that once again the Justice Ministry department for investigating police misconduct “has excelled in covering up and has failed in putting the police officers on trial for violence against civilians. The police knew I was a Knesset member during the incident and chose already at the beginning of the investigation to lie concerning the use of tear gas and the fact that I was hit with a sponge-tipped bullet, too. The closing of the case, and after over a year and a half from the time of the incident, is worrying and proves that there is no true intention whatsoever to investigate what really happened.” Odeh said he intends on asking to see all the materials from the investigation so he can appeal the decision to close the case.
Lawyers for the police officers involved in the case said: “The objective truth won out over the absurdities that have been heard over the past year and a half – whose goal was political profit. At the same time, we regret that the police officers counter-complaint against MK Odeh has not yet received appropriate treatment, but there is a time for everything.”