No Charges Against Israeli Policeman Who Killed Bedouin During January Drug Raid

Shooting in Rahat in January, which was investigated by Justice Ministry as possible violation of regulations, led to riots in Arab communities throughout Israel.

A poster commemorating Sami al-Ja’ar, courtesy of his family.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police officers has closed its probe of the officer who shot and killed a young man from the Bedouin city of Rahat in the course of a drug raid in January, citing a lack of evidence — even though the policeman admitted he violated police rules of engagement. A final decision in the case is pending a review of comments to be made by the victim’s lawyer.

The death of Sami al-Ja’ar, 22, on January 15, 2015, led to a wave of demonstrations, some of which turned violent, in the southern Israeli town and in Arab communities around the country. It was even the reason for a one-day solidarity strike in Arab towns.

The incident leading to Ja’ar’s death began during a roundup of suspected drug dealers in Rahat. When locals threw rocks at the police and demanded the release of the suspects, officers opened fire in order to dispel the crowd. Ja’ar and others were suspected of trafficking drugs and arms. Three police officers were injured in the incident.

Khaled al-Ja’ar, Sami’s father and a retired police officer himself, Khaled related that on Wednesday afternoon he and the lawyer went to the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem, where they met with the head of the police investigations department, Uri Carmel, as well as his deputy and the prosecutor involved in the case as well. Khaled said they told him there was not enough evidence to prosecute the police officer. Khaled added that Carmel admitted that he did not believe the officer’s version of the events, which he changed a number of times during the investigation. According to Khaled, Carmel said the state prosecutor had agreed to close the investigation, pending a review of any comments submitted by the family’s lawyer.

The Justice Ministry confirmed the meeting, saying its purpose was to apprise the father and the lawyer of the evidence uncovered in the investigation, and confirmed that a copy of the case file was given to the attorney.

The lawyers for the police officer, who has not been named, said they were convinced from the beginning that the investigation would be closed, adding that it was unfortunate that their client had to wait so long for the decision.

“The police officer proved he did not cause the death of the deceased and that is what he claimed from the very first day of the investigation. The State Prosecutor’s Office made the right decision, despite the heavy pressure it faced,” the lawyers said in a statement.

After his son’s death, Khaled told reporters that Sami was not involved in dealing drugs and had in fact complained several times about drug deals taking place at the school where the raid took place, across the street from their home. He said that when the raid began, his son had run out of the house to investigate the shouting that he heard, which is when he was shot dead.