Video Reveals: Israeli Police Pepper Sprayed Arab Leader in the Face

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MK Ayman Odeh pictured after being injured during the evacuation of the Bedouin town of Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017.
MK Ayman Odeh pictured after being injured during the evacuation of the Bedouin town of Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Previously unseen video footage of a Bedouin protest in southern Israel that left two people dead raises new questions about how the Israel Police handled the incident in January.

The footage seemingly shows the police using tear gas or pepper spray on MK Ayman Odeh, the leader of Israel’s main Arab political party, the Joint List. It also shows a policeman filming the clashes, even though the police have seemingly chosen not to release this material.

The newly released footage follows another development on Tuesday when State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan asked the unit that investigates police conduct to review new evidence concerning the deadly incident.

Violence flared on January 18 after the High Court of Justice ordered Israeli security forces to evacuate the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev, because it was not recognized by the state and was therefore deemed illegal.

Two people died during the clashes: local schoolteacher Yakub Abu al-Kiyan and police officer Erez Levi. In addition, Odeh suffered a light head injury which he says was caused by a sponge-tipped bullet. Kiyan died after police shot at the car he was driving and he subsequently lost control of it, plowing into a group of policemen, killing Levi. Suspecting a terror attack, officers then killed Kiyan.

Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was shot by police and called a terrorist. His family wants to clear his nameCredit: Haaretz

The new video footage was shot by Al Jazeera cameraman Murad Sa’id and depicts the moments following Kiyan’s shooting. Police officers are seen arguing with Odeh and other protesters – presumably over their desire to reach the area where Kiyan was shot.

One of the policemen can then be seen spraying tear gas or pepper spray at Odeh’s face from a short distance and then retreating. Stun grenades are also seen exploding in the area.

Odeh says his head injury occurred after the events documented in the new footage took place.

In January, the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine said the cause of Odeh’s injury could not be unequivocally determined. However, the institute did say the injury could be the result of a sponge-tipped bullet.

The new footage shows that at least one policeman was also on the ground filming the clashes. The police have not declassified this footage, choosing instead to release footage that was shot overhead from a police helicopter.

Odeh’s legal team said Sa’id’s video footage was passed onto the police investigations unit at the Justice Ministry back in April. They added that the police only addressed the footage recently when they requested the name of the cameraman and additional details.

According to Odeh’s legal team, the only alteration to Sa’id’s original footage was to make it brighter and more visible. However, it features a “jump” or cut they cannot explain. The legal team says the footage contained this cut when they received it.

State Prosecutor Nitzan returned the Umm al-Hiran case to the police investigating unit on Tuesday, saying he was doing so due to the discovery of “new information” that had emerged and necessitated further investigation.

After reviewing the new information, the unit will deliver its findings to Nitzan. He must then decide whether or not indictments should be filed.

The police previously stated that Odeh’s head injury was caused when he was hit by an errant rock thrown at security forces by protesters.

Responding to the new development, Odeh said: “The web of lies and incitement by the police and state continues to be revealed. Everything we claimed from the first moment is turning out to be the truth. The responsibility for the horrible losses of the Kiyan and Levi families is on [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan and [Israel Police chief Roni] Alsheich, and they should have resigned that same day.

“Almost a year has passed and it seems the police investigations unit is busy sweeping the affair under the carpet, instead of dealing with the revelation of the truth and bringing those in charge to justice,” he said.

Odeh added: “We continue to demand that an independent investigative committee look into the bloody events of Umm al-Hiran from the moment the decision was made [to evacuate] to the tragic outcome. The only justice we can offer the Kiyan family is by revealing the truth, acknowledging the village of Umm al-Hiran and [letting] the residents remain on their land.”

In response, the Israel Police said: “Unfortunately, time and again Israel Police are paying a public price, but they are the only body insisting on preserving the law and avoiding leaking information and the obstruction of investigations. Israel Police have been waiting for many months for an official summary of the investigation that has been nixed already and now reopened in order to look into a specific issue. Until the investigation ends, we cannot address the matter.”

Dov Gilad Cohen, the lawyer representing Israeli security personnel who took part in the clashes, said: “MK Odeh came to Umm al-Hiran in order to take an active part in an illegal demonstration against the execution of a demolition order. MK Odeh chose to physically clash with police and refused to abide by their orders until they had to use the most moderate means there are – pepper spray.”

Cohen also claimed that Odeh “was not injured from sponge-tipped bullets, and sponge-tipped bullets were not fired in his vicinity. The relevant evidence to dispute his claim has been passed onto the police investigations unit, the state prosecutor and the attorney general.”

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