Israeli Arab Lawmaker: Bedouin Slain After Be'er Sheva Terror Attack Was Innocent

Knesset member Abu Arar calls on Defense Minister Ya’alon to release body of Muhannad al-Okbi, who allegedly killed soldier and wounded 11 bystanders, for burial.

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MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List)
MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) asserted on Wednesday that the Bedouin man killed after allegedly committing a deadly terror attack recently at the Be’er Sheva central bus station was innocent.

Speaking in the Knesset, Abu Arar called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who was present, to release the body of Muhannad al-Okbi, an Israel Arab from the Bedouin village of Hura, for burial.

Khalil al-Okbi, father of 21-year-old Mouhand al-Okbi who was killed while carrying out a terrorist attack at Be’er Sheva’s central bus station. October 19, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

“I’ve asked the prime minister and defense minister to release the body of the young Bedouin Muhannad al-Okbi. It’s been over three weeks. His family and I assert his innocence. The matter needs to be investigated again and again until the truth is uncovered. I watched a video showing the incident at the bus station. It does not prove Al-Okbi’s involvement. It shows nothing. No gunfire, no one pulling a gun or holding a gun. I therefore request that the body be released for burial.”

The crime scene in the Be'er Sheva bus station, earlier this week. The police have already identified a number of people involved in the attack on Zarhum.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Abu Arar went on to say: “The entire Bedouin population, which is fighting a just and legitimate battle in a nonviolent way, cannot be impugned. Violence is not our way. We are always striving for equal rights. The Israeli government should be ashamed of this inhuman policy.”

He also called for an investigation into claims that the corneas were stolen from the corpse. “I don’t understand what the Israeli government is doing with the bodies [of slain terrorists]. It’s immoral and inhuman,” he said.

The claim was made by the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, and were blasted by Israel as "blood libel." In a letter, Mansour claimed "medical examination conducted on bodies of Palestinians returned after they were killed by the occupying power found that they were missing organs." Israel UN ambassador, Danny Danon, responded to the claim in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying it revealed "the Palestinian representative's anti-Semitic face," and urged Ban to condemn the "inflammatory statements" and remove "anti-Semitism" from the United Nations.

Al-Okbi, 21, was killed at the Be’er Sheva bus station on October 19 after allegedly stealing the gun of IDF Sgt. Omri Levy, shooting him to death and wounding 11 other people with it. Okbi was said to have also been carrying a knife, though he didn’t use it. During the melee, the crowd at the bus station mistook an Eritrean asylum-seeker, Habtom Zarhum, for the terrorist, began shouting “kill him,” whereupon a security guard shot him to death and people in the crowd kicked Zarhum while he lay bleeding on the floor.

Ya'alon: Bodies held to prevent violent funerals

At the Knesset session, Ya’alon spoke about the policy of returning terrorists’ bodies, and addressed criticism that has been heard from the families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, the slain Israeli soldiers whose bodies have been held in Gaza since Operation Protective Edge of summer 2014.

“No professional involved thinks it is correct to link the bodies of the terrorists from the West Bank and Jerusalem with the matter of our soldiers and civilians in Gaza,” said Ya’alon. “The soldiers’ families know what our policy is. We talked with them. After the media reports came out, I asked if there was a need for further explanation or another meeting. I was told that there was no need. There is very great sensitivity here.”

Ya’alon explained that “the cabinet met to discuss the issue right after the start of the terror wave, when we were in possession of a number of bodies of terrorists, mainly from the Jerusalem area. We decided to wait on returning the bodies. One consideration was the very clear stance of the security experts who took part in the discussion that, unlike home demolitions, keeping the bodies is not a deterrent to potential terrorists.

“We held another meeting,” Ya’alon continued, “at which it was decided that the prime minister, in consultation with myself and the internal security minister, would be authorized to make a decision on each case individually. The main consideration is the incitement that is induced with a mass funeral. So the decision was made to return the bodies to the families on condition that the family commits to hold a quiet funeral. A number of funerals like this were held, and then a mass funeral took place in Hebron that included incitement, so we stopped. When we are not sure that there won’t be incitement we do not return the body. The policy is consistent and applied in accordance with ethical and security considerations.”

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