Israeli Public Security Minister: Questions Remain Whether Cop’s Killing Was Terror

Gilad Erdan says 'we have to investigate not just what happened, but also who fanned the flames and incited everything that happened at Umm al-Hiran,' where a police officer and Israeli Arab resident were killed.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, January 25, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday in the Knesset there were still many questions about what transpired in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran last week where a police officer and an Israeli Arab resident were killed, though initial findings suggested there had been a terror attack there.

Early last Wednesday as police deployed to secure a planned home demolition in the village, Bedouin educator Yakub Abu al-Kiyan ran over police officer Erez Levi, killing him, and was shot dead by police. But whether al-Kiyan deliberately hit Levi or had lost control of his car after being shot remains unclear.

“There are a lot of questions that remain open and I hope that the investigation going on by both the department for the investigation of police and the Shin Ben security service will provide answers,” Erdan said.

Erdan’s remarks came during a debate of a motion to name a parliamentary inquiry committee into the incident, which was rejected by a vote of 42 to 22 with three abstentions.

“I got the bad news in the early morning,” Erdan said. “On the same day there was a police investigation, testimony was taken from policemen in the field and together with the video shot from the helicopter, the picture that emerged was very clear; it was an attack, a deliberate ramming.”

Erdan said that you could see in the “unedited video,” as he put it, that al-Kiyan, “accelerates, turns sharply to the right, runs into the group of policemen and after passing it, makes another sharp right to escape, but stopped when a police vehicle stopped him.”

The minister said he fully backs the police. “This is an illegal community and a rammer who wasn’t meant to be there or to drive toward police forces,” Erdan said. “Only the week before there had been a ramming attack in Jerusalem and they asked why soldiers didn’t shoot to prevent the ramming attack.”

Erdan said “there are a lot of things to investigate, but we have to investigate not just what happened, but also who fanned the flames and incited everything that happened at Umm al-Hiran.”

The Joint Arab List wanted one of its members to respond to Erdan’s remarks. When Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein refused to allow it, party chairman Ayman Odeh called Edelstein a racist.

Controversy about the incident has also been fueled by anger at government plans to remove the unauthorized homes where Arab citizens live in the village to make way for homes to be built for Jews in the same area.

Before Erdan’s remarks, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) one of the sponsors of the motion, said, “among the Bedouin population and the general Arab population there’s a sense of deep mourning after the Israeli government declared war on its own citizens. We have a harsh feeling that the lives of Arabs here are cheap, that they’re worth less.”