Nine policemen were questioned under caution, meaning as criminal suspects, on Tuesday night on suspicion of involvement in an assault on Knesset member Ayman Odeh (Joint List) in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in January. The most senior policemen among those under investigation is ranked superintendent.
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MK Odeh was injured during clashes between protesters and security forces when the latter came to demolish illegally built homes in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran on January 17, 2017. A policeman and a Bedouin Israeli were killed during the standoff.
The incident is now being probed by the Internal Affairs Department, and some of the policemen under investigation, including the unit’s commander, are suspected of obstructing justice by failing to report the event involving Odeh as well as lying about it when they were questioned in the past.
The unit commander was confined to house arrest for three days and the other policemen were released without constraints.
The policemen were summoned for questioning after the IAD received a video showing police forces confronting MK Odeh. One of the policemen at the scene is depicted in the video using pepper spray on Odeh, without provocation.
The IAD asked the police to identify the officers shown in the video, including the one wielding the pepper spray.
The policemen claimed that there were multiple policemen from different units at Umm al-Hiran on that day, and that they could not identify the cop spraying Odeh.
The IAD investigators suspect the police are covering up for a member of their own unit who, in essence, attacked the Knesset member. It seems, however, that they are keen on questioning the policemen about Odeh’s claim that he was shot with a foam-tipped bullet that day.
The policeman killed in January during the rioting at Umm al-Hiran was Erez Levy, and the Bedouin was Yakub Abu al-Kiyan.
According to police, al-Kiyan was a terrorist who deliberately ran over and killed 37-year-old policeman Erez Levi and injured another.
Odeh claimed that during the protest against the demolitions, he was first sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray, then shot in the head and back with foam-tipped bullets. Police rebutted that Odeh was hit by a rock that protesters had thrown at police.
The video reached the IAD in April, but the unit only began investigating after the state prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered it to do so, an order that was also prompted by a police report saying that al-Kiyan had run over Levi intentionally as an act of terrorism.
Five of the policemen questioned on Tuesday night were from Levi’s unit, the administration coordinating land-law enforcement.
Or Tamir, the lawyer representing the policemen, said that they were summoned to the IAD in order to identify the policemen who allegedly sprayed Odeh. “According to them, the identity of the sprayer cannot be ascertained,” Tamir stated.
“We have no faith in the IAD investigation, and the fact that the policemen are being investigated now, 10 months after the event and only following information that we exposed, shows that the IAD isn’t even trying to find out what happened at Umm al-Hiran,” Odeh stated.
“It is whitewashing the police’s responsibility for the tragic deaths of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan and Erez Levi. I again call on the police and IAD to expose all the photographic material in their possession from that night, including the attack on me, and the shooting that led to al-Kiyan’s death.”
The battle to leave the al-Kiyan family in their village and on their land continues, Odeh said.
This article was amended on November 30, 2017, correcting the type of bullet with which MK Odeh claims to have been shot.