Cases of Other Bedouin Killed by Police Concealed, Closed or Still Being Probed

While probes into the Israeli Bedouin killed by police last month have been swift, similar cases have been characterized by foot-dragging, snafus and concealing information from the public.

The mourning tent for Sami al-Jaar, 2015.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, who was shot dead by police in Umm al-Hiran last month, isn’t the first Israeli Bedouin to be killed in clashes with the police. But while the Justice Ministry department that investigates police malfeasance has acted relatively swiftly in Abu al-Kiyan’s case, in other cases, the department’s behavior, like that of the police and the Public Security Ministry, has been characterized by foot-dragging, snafus and concealing information from the public.

In sharp contrast to the civilian justice system, the Israel Defense Forces has clear rules for how to proceed if soldiers kill a Palestinian. Under orders issued by the military prosecution and submitted to the High Court of Justice in 2011, a Military Police investigation must be opened into any such death that occurs outside a “genuine combat operation.”

In Abu Al-Kiyan’s case, the Justice Ministry is soon expected to announce that he was not a terrorist who deliberately plowed his car into a group of policemen on January 18, killing one, as police originally claimed. Rather, he apparently lost control of his car after being shot by police.

But three other investigations into police killings of Israeli Bedouin have not resulted in such prompt, clear-cut conclusions.

Sami al-Jaar

Sami al-Jaar.

Sami al-Jaar, of Rahat, was killed two years ago during a police raid on drug dealers in the Bedouin town in the Negev. Yet the policeman who, according to the Justice Ministry, unquestionably fired the fatal shot still serves in the police.

Only two months ago, after Sami’s father, Khaled al-Jaar, petitioned the High Court, did the police say they would consider “temporary administrative steps” against the policeman, whose name is under a gag order. But so far, no decision has been made.

Police say that during the raid, Rahat residents rioted and threw stones at them in an effort to free those arrested. Al-Jaar was killed after police opened fire to disperse the rioters.

Investigative records seen by Haaretz show that when first questioned, the policeman responsible denied shooting Al-Jaar. But after a bullet from his pistol was found with Al-Jaar’s blood on it, along with fibers from the Bedouin’s clothing, the policeman changed his story, claiming his pistol went off accidentally as he was returning it to its holster. He said he initially lied because he feared Rahat residents would take revenge on him if the truth came out.

Nevertheless, police took no action against him, and the Justice Ministry ultimately closed the case despite saying it had no doubt that he fired the fatal bullet, due to “the difficulty of determining, via admissible evidence, what the factual circumstances of the shooting were,” as well as the difficulty of determining the policeman’s intentions.

Moreover, the ministry broke its promise to Al-Jaar’s father and his attorney, Shmuel Zilberman, that the case wouldn’t be closed before they had a chance to submit their objections. A ministry spokesman confirmed this promise, but said Zilberman’s subsequent death had delayed submission of the objections, so it went ahead and closed the case.

Two months ago, Khaled Al-Jaar petitioned the High Court to demand that the policeman who killed his son be suspended from the force. In response, the Justice Ministry revealed that when it closed the criminal case, it decided to transfer the file to the police so the latter could consider disciplinary steps against the policeman. But “due to a technical mishap,” it never actually transferred the file.

Sami Ziadna

A resident of Rahat holding a picture of Sammy Ziadna in his funeral, in 2015.
Ilan Assayag

Sami Al-Jaar was buried in Rahat the day after his death. Due to the tense atmosphere, the police and the municipality agreed that no police would enter the cemetery during the funeral. But a patrol car did so accidentally and was promptly attacked by mourners. Police responded by shooting tear gas canisters, and as a result, Sami Ziadna suffered a heart attack and died.

The next day, even before Ziadna was autopsied, the Justice Ministry announced that it wouldn’t investigate his death. Since then, his brother Raki told Haaretz, he has asked the ministry several times to open an investigation, but the ministry replied that the autopsy showed Ziadna died of a heart attack.

“Even if that’s true, they should investigate everything that happened,” Raki Ziadna said. “To this day we don’t know when he was evacuated” to the hospital or “what kind of gas the police used.”

Mazen Abu Habak

Mazen Abu Habak.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Mazen Abu Habak’s death remains a mystery to this day. The incident that led to it began on the night of February 2, 2016, when police spotted what they deemed a suspicious sport utility vehicle near the community of Eshbol, also in the Negev desert. Police said the driver ignored their shouts to stop, so they gave chase. The SUV drove wildly, they said, and even hit several patrol cars.

A police volunteer later told the Justice Ministry that he fired at the SUV near the community of Tidhar, but didn’t aim at the occupants and didn’t think anyone had been hit. The SUV eventually got away, and several hours later, it was found, torched, at the Nokdim Junction.

About an hour after the chase ended, Abu Habak, a resident of Masudin al-Azazma, came to the Rahat clinic for treatment of a gunshot wound in his back. Four days later, he died at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, and an autopsy later concluded that the shot was the cause of his death.

For eight months, police concealed the incident from the public, until Haaretz happened to learn of it. Soroka and the Magen David Adom ambulance service also failed to report the incident to the press, contrary to their usual practice. But police did report the incident to the Justice Ministry, which began looking into it.

That was over a year ago, but the ministry has yet to decide whether to turn its inquiry into a full-fledged criminal investigation. It has taken testimony from the policemen and volunteers involved, but said there is so far not enough evidence to conclude that a crime was committed.

Hussein Abu Hussein, the Abu Habak family’s attorney, said the ministry has promised to make a decision in another few days.