January’s deadly clashes between police and Arab Israelis in a Bedouin town are liable to have a serious negative effect on the police's image, especially on its work in the Arab community, say senior officers.
They have therefore called for the establishment of an internal inquiry committee to learn the relevant lessons from events in Umm al-Hiran, and apply them to all the parties involved in planning and carrying out last month’s court-approved demolition of illegal homes in the Negev town.
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Some officers even said an external inquiry was required.
The demolitions in Umm al-Hiran on January 18 sparked violent protests by local Bedouin. During the ensuing clashes, police shot at the car being driven by Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, who consequently lost control of it, plowing into a group of policemen and killing one, Erez Levi. Suspecting a terror attack, police officers then killed Abu al-Kiyan.
The senior officers said the planning of the operation was flawed at every level, and stressed that every house demolition in the Arab community requires approval from the police commissioner. Therefore, they said, such an inquiry should not be confined to the district and subdistrict level, but should also extend to national headquarters.
The police’s Negev subdistrict has carried out many demolitions of illegally built Bedouin homes in recent years, but none had previously resulted in fatalities.
The officers listed several questions that they said an inquiry committee needed to answer.
First, what intelligence did police have before the demolition, and what level of resistance did they expect?
Second, who prepared the police’s plan, and who approved it, at every level?
Third, who actually commanded the operation, at every level?
Fourth, who briefed the officers involved, and what did he or she tell them?
Fifth, what were the reasons for the amount and type of forces police deployed?
Sixth, why did police decide the demolition should take place before dawn, when experience shows that demolitions during the day not only encounter less resistance – since men are at work and children at school – but also enable better control to be maintained over both the demonstrators and the police?
Seventh, why were the police equipped with so many lethal weapons – in defiance of recommendations made by the Or Commission following the Arab riots of October 2000 – for what was essentially just a crowd-control operation? Presumably it would have been enough to have a small group armed with guns, to be used only in case of genuine danger to the policemen’s lives.
This question is especially salient given that, just two weeks later, police evacuated the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona with no weapons at all, and also no helmets or bulletproof vests. Nor can this seemingly discriminatory behavior be explained as a case of lessons learned; police had begun rehearsing the Amona evacuation long before the Umm al-Hiran demolitions took place.
Eighth, how did reports from the field reach the police commissioner, public security minister and prime minister? Were the reports first checked with other sources, such as the Shin Bet security service, or was information simply passed from one person to the next without anyone checking that it was reliable?
Ninth, how long did it take for police to request a probe by the Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers? Normally, the ministry is supposed to be called in immediately, so that investigators can collect evidence while it’s fresh.
And finally, did the force’s behavior comply with the written orders it received?