Israel's Top Court Denies Bid to Reopen Probe of Officers Who Killed Bedouin

Petition based on legal opinion that since the resident had not committed a terrorist attack as initially suspected, police officers were liable to be investigated as criminal suspects; they never were

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israeli policemen standing guard next to Yakub Abu al-Kiyan's vehicle in Umm al-Hiran in January 2017.
Israeli policemen standing guard next to Yakub Abu al-Kiyan's vehicle in Umm al-Hiran in January 2017.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov / AP
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israel's High Court of Justice denied on Thursday a petition to reopen the investigation of the police officers who shot and killed a resident of the unrecognized Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran in 2017.

The petition was filed on behalf of the family of the victim, Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, against the decision of the state prosecutor at the time, Shai Nitzan, and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to close the case without investigating any of the police involved in the incident.

Abu al-Kiyan, an assistant school principal, was killed during clashes between residents and the police overseeing home demolitions. He was shot and seemingly lost control of his vehicle while driving; his car hit and killed police officer Erez Amedi Levy and injured another officer. On the day of the incident, the police accused Abu al-Kiyan of being a terrorist and intentionally running over the officers.

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His family based their petition on the legal opinion of Uri Carmel, the former head of the Justice Ministry department for investigating police misconduct. Carmel wrote that contrary to the position of then-police commissioner Roni Alsheich, Abu al-Kiyan was not a terrorist and committed no intentional attack. Therefore, he concluded, the officer who opened fire first at Abu al-Kiyan could be questioned under caution as a criminal suspect.

In July, the state prosecutor’s office asked the High Court – in an exceptional step – to ignore Carmel’s opinion. Prosecutors said the document with the legal opinion was provided as part of an examination by the Ombudsman of the State Representatives in the Courts in November 2020, and “is not admissible as evidence in a legal proceeding.” They said that by law, any document prepared for the ombudsman’s review may not serve as evidence in court.

A full investigation conducted by the Justice Ministry unit after the incident found that Abu al-Kiyan was only driving at a spead of around 10 kilometers per hour when one of the police officers opened fire at his vehicle; several policemen subsequently opend fire, shooting dozens of rounds at him and killing him.

Alsheich initially called Abu al-Kiyan, a “vile terrorist.” But the Justice Ministry investigators concluded that Abu al-Kyan’s actions were not consistent at all with a terrorist attack. The Shin Bet agreed with the Justice Ministry unit, which wanted to investigate the officer who opened fire first. Nonetheless, Nitzan closed the case without investigating any of the officers as criminal suspects, and did not state whether the incident was or wasn’t a terror attack.

Adalah The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed the case on behalf of the Abu al-Kiyan’s family.

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