Israel Police Obstructed Investigation of 2017 Killing of Bedouin Man, Official Says

Police interrogated officers involved in the Yakub Abu al-Kiyan killing and delayed passing material to Internal Investigations Department

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Police next to the vehicle of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, on the day of the incident in 2017.
Police next to the vehicle of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, on the day of the incident in 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Police obstructed a Justice Ministry unit’s inquiry into the killing of Bedouin teacher Yakub Abu al-Kiyan in Umm al-Hiran in 2017, a senior law enforcement official said this week.

Police delayed passing materials about the incident in Umm al-Hiran to the ministry’s unit that investigates police misconduct, showed the officers involved in the incident footage of the shooting, and took their testimonies at the site and at the station, while the Justice Ministry unit was investigating the incident.

These acts prevented the unit from arriving at the truth, investigating officers said.

The unit wanted to investigate the obstruction officially, but former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s decision to close the shooting case stopped the probe into the obstruction as well.

The unit opens an inquiry into every case involving the police in which a civilian is killed. Police are forbidden to interrogate the officers involved in the incident.

In the Umm al-Hiran case, police knew the unit had opened an investigation an hour after the shooting. But on the day the Bedouin community was evacuated, all the policemen involved in the incident testified at the Negev Central Unit police station about the shooting and watched footage of it.

It also transpired that the officers’ commanders had already interrogated them at the site.

The Justice Ministry unit received the first report of the incident about a half hour after Abu al-Kiyan had been shot and policeman Erez Levy had been fatally run over. Police reported the incident to the department as a car-ramming terror attack. Then police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot told the media a terrorist “charged with his car toward the forces and carried out a ramming attack,” referring to Abu al-Kiyan, who was killed by police.

A few hours later, the unit asked police for footage of the event, but was ignored. The unit also asked to interrogate the officers involved, but the police representative said those officers were still in Umm al-Hiran and had been forbidden to leave by their commanders.

In fact, some of the officers involved, including the one who had fired at Abu al-Kiyan’s car first, had gone to Erez Levy’s home in Yavne, where they were shown the footage of the incident that had been taken by a police helicopter.

The funeral of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, who was killed in 2017 in Umm al-Hiran.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Later, police released some of the film to the media – without coordinating the move with the Justice Ministry unit. Also, police failed on two occasions to hand over investigative materials to the unit, including the footage of the shooting, the weapons the policemen had used, items found in Abu al-Kiyan’s house, the evacuation preparations and the recording of the police transmissions on the day of the incident.

A unit investigator came to the Ha’ayarot police station in Be’er Sheva three hours after the shooting, where she waited for two hours for the materials, but the station commanders refused to give them to her.

On the same day the investigator came to the Be’er Sheva station, in coordination with the police, but was forbidden to enter and had to leave without receiving the materials. The investigator wrote in a memo that Central Unit Cmdr. Yigal Kalimian told her he forbade her to enter and did not know what footage she was talking about.

Police passed on to the investigative unit some of the footage taken by the helicopter only on the night of the date the shooting took place, and the rest of the materials four days after the incident.

The unit suspected that police obstructed the investigation and had the policemen change their versions of the incident. Shortly after the shooting the policeman who had fired first at Abu al-Kiyan’s car told the Shin Bet coordinator known as “Taher” that he felt no danger to his or his colleagues’ lives, and that had he felt such danger he would have shot to kill.

But later on he changed his story and said in his testimony at the police Negev Central Unit and at the Justice Ministry unit that he did feel his life was in danger.

Also, the policemen didn’t mention in their first testimony at the police station that one of them had smashed Abu al-Kiyan’s car as it passed them, which indicated the low speed at which the car was moving. Only after former police commissioner Roni Alsheich brought this up himself at a press conference a few days after the incident did the policemen mention this as well.

“The police actively obstructed the investigation, like showing the policemen involved the footage, interrogating them, refusing to hand over the materials to investigators on the first day and their lack of cooperation,” a senior law enforcement official said.

“All these things led to obstruction of the investigation and prevented us from finding the truth,” he said.

Superintendent Dubi Scherzer, the Justice Ministry unit’s chief investigator on the case, wrote in a petition this week to Jerusalem District Court that Alsheich had tried to deter the unit from investigating the police and in particular the Umm al-Hiran event.

About a year and a half after the incident, Nitzan closed the case, saying it was impossible to determine whether the ramming was a terror attack. He also said there was no reasonable suspicion that the policemen involved had committed criminal offenses.

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