Probe Shows How Israel Police Shot Innocent Bedouin Teacher and Left Him to Die

After he was shot, the car being driven by Yakub Abu al-Kiyan struck police officer Erez Levy, who died at the scene; then the teacher bled to death about 10 meters away

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Police standing near Abu al-Kiyan's car.
Police standing near Abu al-Kiyan's car on the day of the evacuation of Umm al-Hiran, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershovitz
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Three years have passed since Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, a Bedouin assistant school principal and teacher, was shot to death during the destruction of the village of Umm al-Hiran. “S.,” a police officer who was among the large contingent of troops deployed to destroy the village on January 18, 2017, shot at al-Kiyan’s car as he drove at a speed of just 10 kilometers an hour.

The car veered off course after Abu al-Kiyan was shot and struck police officer Erez Levy, who died at the scene. Medical teams pronounced the policeman dead and remained at the scene while Abu al-Kiyan bled to death about 10 meters away, for many minutes, without receiving any medical attention.

Haaretz has uncovered a list of details about the failures on that day, beginning with the gunshots fired at Abu al-Kiyan and the leaving of him to die at the scene, along with the dismissal of the Shin Bet’s conclusion that this was not a car-ramming attack, and police and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan description of Levy’s killing as a terrorist attack.

This past week, two years after former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered the closure of the investigation against the police officers involved in the case, while Abu al-Kiyan’s family is expected to petition the High Court of Justice for an investigation and trial of the police officers involved.

Haaretz has seen investigative material gathered by the Shin Bet and a Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct, which led to the conclusion that the incident had nothing to do with terrorism.

The police response

The police said in response for this article: “This was a regrettable incident, during which a policeman was run over and killed, another policeman was injured and the driver who rammed into them was killed after being neutralized by the police, all during an operation carried out lawfully at the site. A Justice Ministry unit examination found unequivocally that there was no suspicion of any criminal wrongdoing by the police who operated in the area under complicated conditions.” 

Yakub Abu al-Kiyan
Police officer Erez Levy, who was struck and killed by Abu al-Kiyan's car.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel said: “The Umm al-Hiran affair is a watershed event in relations between the police and the Arab-Bedouin community in particular, and the Israeli public in general. In order to begin to rectify these ugly relations, we must first return to Umm al-Hiran and exhaust legal measures against the police who were involved, and see that justice is done for the families of those who were hurt.”

Shin Bet investigators arrived right after Abu al-Kiyan’s and Levy’s deaths to question police and the schoolteacher’s family members. “S.” had said right after the shooting that he hadn’t felt any threat to his life. This version changed after “S.” entered the investigations room.

“The driver turned on his headlights and started to drive slowly toward the police. I lifted my gun and fired accurately at the tires to stop the car. At the point when I shot at the car, I did not feel any immediate threat to my life or my peers, because if I did I would have shot at the driver with the intent to kill him. I fired my gun because the driver didn’t answer our calls to stop, and we feared he could hurt other police who were on their way ...”

Another police officer involved in the incident described the vehicle’s slow movement and how it sped up after the gunfire. “The car lights were turned on and it started to move slowly toward us. I called out to him to stop and even slammed my gun against the [police] jeep but the driver didn’t stop. When the vehicle reached “S.”, he shot at the tires. With the gunshot, the driver [Abu al-Kiyan] of the [Toyota] Landcruiser picked up speed and sped very quickly down the road.”

Avoid any violence

An investigator spoke to Abu al-Kiyan’s family and they said Abu al-Kiyan had asked them to avoid any violence and to permit the forces to destroy the village homes.

“Before I left the house my father spoke with Yakub. The phone was on speaker,” the deceased’s nephew said. “I heard Yakub say that if the state wanted to destroy the home, let it do so, not to engage in violence.” His father, the deceased’s brother, confirmed this in questioning: “Yakub said he didn’t want any violence and that they should destroy the houses.”

Other investigators spoke to one of Abu al-Kiyan’s sons about the shooting. He told them his father asked him not to grow a beard so that they wouldn’t think he belonged to ISIS.

“He said in the past there was nothing to do about the issue of demolitions or against the government,” the son told the investigators. These testimonies led the Shin Bet official responsible for the investigation to determine that Abu al-Kiyan had no links to any terrorist organizations and that he did not plan to violently resist the demolition of his house. He wasn’t known to the Shin Bet for involvement in political violence and his name never came up as someone involved with militant elements.

The testimonies led Shin Bet investigators to an unequivocal conclusion: Police conduct on the ground and the shooting at Abu al-Kiyan and his car led to policeman Levy’s death by Abu al-Kiyan’s car crashing into him. The Shin Bet’s involvement in the case was halted within 48 hours, and the investigation was handed over to the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police.

Video raises questions about alleged car-ramming attack by Bedouin

No apparent terrorist links

Justice Ministry investigators searched both of Abu al-Kiyan’s computers to see if there were any links to terrorism. “No material relevant to the investigation was found, and on the contrary, no indication was found of any web surfing or possession of material about hostile activities or terrorism that would suggest a desire or plan by the deceased to carry out an attack,” Alon Shpitzer, the ministry unit’s official in charge of investigating computers, wrote.

Abu al-Kiyan was shot in the back and in his right knee, and an autopsy found he had bled to death from the wound in his back. But at the scene, a police commander described him as an “x,” meaning deceased, though nobody had pronounced him dead. Police, two doctors and paramedics were at the scene. “The deceased died of a failure to receive medical treatment,” said Dr. Maya Forman of the forensics unit that performed the autopsy. “Had he received treatment he apparently would not have died.”

Immediately after the shooting Abu al-Kiyan was left inside the car, wounded but alive. The distance between him and the medical personnel was about 10 meters. The police doctor and medics went to treat the police first. A few minutes later the doctor pronounced Levy’s death. She said she didn’t see Abu al-Kiyan but the medic who was next to her said they both saw him, and were not asked to provide him with any medical treatment.

“After pronouncing the officer dead I went over to the second policeman,” the doctor testified.

“Did you see any other wounded people there,” she was asked.

“I didn’t see anyone nor was I told about anyone,” she replied.

“You arrive at a place where everyone is under pressure, a policeman is wounded, another is dead, you didn’t ask how he was killed?” the investigators asked.

“I heard they said there was a car that ran over the officers or that they were hurt by gunfire, none of them told me there was another wounded person in the field,” she said. “I only dealt with the police officers. For the duration of 50 minutes that I treated them, they didn’t mention another wounded person. Only at around 10:30 [five hours after the two killings] I heard that there is another casualty and a dead driver who ran over the cops. I didn’t see him. I’m 100 percent certain.”

The ruins of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran following its demolition.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A different recollection

The medic who was with the doctor had a different recollection. He said they saw Abu al-Kiyan but later on. “About 15 minutes after completing the treatment of the police, I saw the attacker’s car, [with] a body that was half outside of it. I didn’t treat him nor did I see any medic approach him to treat him. From the way it looked I thought he was dead.”

A Justice Ministry investigator said, “He didn’t die of a gunshot. The guy died of loss of blood for tens of minutes. In other words, if you would have noticed and worked as you should, this guy wouldn’t have died. Do you understand the significance of this?”

The paramedic replied: “Sad, it’s easy to talk now but in the field the signs were that it was an attack.”

The investigators pressed the paramedic: “You are lying when you say you didn’t notice him. Erez’s death was pronounced five minutes after you got there, and then you went to treat another officer, but you couldn’t evacuate him and there was still someone bleeding to death, who if you would have stanched the bleeding, you would have saved his life. Your response?”

The paramedic: “Maybe. I didn’t notice him at all.”

Members of the medical team blamed senior officers in the field for not ordering them to treat Abu al-Kiyan.

Yossi Golan, commander of the police Yoav Unit and the most senior officer at the site, said he thought the man was a terrorist.

“My presumption was that someone had checked and pronounced him dead. If I had received a report that there were still chances for his survival then I would have immediately asked for him to be treated. I wish I would have seen [Abu al-Kiyan] move, and I would have saved him.”

Golan ruled out the possibility that Abu al-Kiyan had a bomb but another senior officer at the site, Yossi Avisror, said that there was a suspicion that the car was booby-trapped.

“He didn’t receive medical care because the car, from my standpoint, was suspected to be booby-trapped. I don’t endanger medical staff until a demolition expert declares the sight safe,” he said in his testimony.

The investigation shows that six minutes after the shooting, a police commander asked for helicopter assistance on his communications radio, saying, “And the terrorist who ran him over is in x condition.” He was the first one to report Abu al-Kiyan dead, although nobody had checked and in fact he was still alive.

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