Israeli Bedouin Shot to Death by Cops Was Not a Terrorist, Investigators Say

Police insist that the Negev jeep driver intentionally ran over a cop, but Justice Ministry probe finds no evidence to back that claim

The Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran during the demolitions, Jan. 18, 2017.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Justice Ministry department for investigating police misconduct does not think the incident in which a resident of the unrecognized Bedouin Negev village of Umm al-Hiran, Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, ran over and killed a police officer in January 2017 was a terrorist attack, says a source in law enforcement with knowledge of the details of the investigation.

But the police continue to view the incident in which al-Kiyan ran over and killed Staff Sgt. Major Erez Levy as an intentional hit and run attack. Al-Kiyan was shot and killed by police officers after his jeep hit Levy.

The Justice Ministry investigation ended two months ago when the unit again passed on the results of its investigation in Al-Kiyan's case to the State Prosecutor's Office – with the recommendation that no charges be filed against the policemen, saying that their conduct did not constitute a crime and the case should be closed.

The incident occurred when police were sent to guard forces demolishing several houses in Umm al-Hiran, after a court order was issued allowing the demolition of the unrecognized village in the northern Negev.

About three months ago, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan sent the case  back to the Justice Ministry investigators asking for additional investigative work after the police said the Shin Bet security service had concluded that Al-Kiyan had deliberately run Levy over in a terrorist attack.

A source close to the investigation said the Justice Ministry investigation did not focus on Al-Kiyan's motives and that the investigators refrained from any decision on whether it was a deliberate terrorist attack. Residents of the Bedouin community said Shin Bet representatives visited Umm al-Hiran to question them about the incident – after the file had been sent back to the police conduct unit for further investigation.

While it was impossible to rule out al-Kiyan had attacked intentionally, no evidence exists that this was his intention, said the source.

Police claimed, following the incident, that Al-Kiyan ran Levy over in a deliberate attack on behalf of the Islamic State organization, but the details of the incident that have been released so far do not confirm the claim.

In addition to recommending that the investigation against the policemen who shot Al-Kiyan be closed, it appears that the Justice Ministry unit will also recommend closing a case against policemen suspected of assaulting  the leader of the predominantly Arab Joint List Knesset faction, MK Ayman Odeh that same day at the scene, said the law enforcement source. Odeh was injured during clashes between protesters and police.

The unit is expected to recommend that the police involved in the confrontation with Odeh face internal disciplinary action within the police force for failing to report the confrontation in their official report on the events.

Like the case involving the police who shot Al-Kiyan, that file too had been sent back to the Justice Ministry for further investigation after the ministry's police conduct unit recommended that it be closed.

Odeh claimed that he was first sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray, then shot in the head and back with foam-tipped bullets. Police said Odeh was hit by a rock that protesters had thrown at police.

A short time after the incident, the police said al-Kiyan was an active terrorist in the Islamic Movement, and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich called al-Kiyan a “despicable terrorist” at Levy’s funeral. Alsheich linked al-Kiyan to six other teachers in his school who were arrested on suspicions of belonging to ISIS.