Bedouin Driver Shot by Israeli Police Was Not Carrying Out Attack, Probe Set to Show

Netanyahu and security officials were quick to call the incident a terrorist attack, but an investigation is set to prove otherwise. Findings are 'not good for police,' legal experts say.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Yakub Abu al-Kian (left) and Erez Levi.
Yakub Abu al-Kian (left) and Erez Levi.Credit: No credit
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

A Bedouin driver who had run over a police officer during clashes in a Negev village did not intend to carry out an attack, a probe into the incident is expected to show in the coming days.

The January incident took place during a Bedouin demonstration against the demolition of the unrecognized Negev village of Umm al-Hiran. At the demonstration, Yakub Abu al-Kiyan ran over officer Erez Levi before being killed by police gunfire.

The probe by the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers should be completed within two weeks, but officials may come out sooner with a statement saying that the evidence collected indicates that Kiyan did not plan or commit a terror attack causing Levi's death.

According to legal experts, the investigation findings so far are "not good for the police," which claimed immediately after the incident that Kiyan was a terrorist who planned to run over policemen for political motives.

According to the findings, Kiyan was driving at a low speed, never exceeding 20 kilometers per hour (12 miles per hour). Professionals who have studied this incident and others believe that someone who wished to commit a vehicular ramming attack would not have been driving so slowly when he had sufficient distance to accelerate. Also, the shooting was carried out from a greater distance than claimed by the police officers and commanders in the field, and Kiyan’s intentions were not possible to discern.

Credit: Police

Testimony from the police about the location where Kiyan began driving and the location where he was asked to stop also did not match the findings in the field. Nor did the claim that he did not have his headlights on, which was refuted by the video of the incident that was made public.

On Tuesday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said: “A difficult and regrettable incident took place in Umm al-Hiran a few weeks ago. We mustn’t let anyone try to take this particular incident in which unfortunately both a policeman and a civilian were killed and draw inferences from it regarding the totality of the relationship between the Bedouin population and the police.”

Legal experts took his comments as an indication that he was reneging on his previous characterization of incident as a terror attack, noting that he was aware of the investigation's findings.

Shortly after the incident occurred, Erdan had said: “This was a grave incident for our forces and for the whole country. A terrorist associated with the Islamic Movement sped toward our forces with the intention of killing as many police officers as possible before the start of the eviction. Since then, I have been hearing more and more calls of incitement that are distorting the picture of what really happened. I call upon the Knesset members from the Joint List: 'Stop the incitement.'”

Police chief Roni Alsheich delivered a eulogy at Levi’s funeral, where he labeled the incident a terror attack. Even though the investigation was launched right after the incident, Alsheich went ahead and said: “Unfortunately, there are some people who would exploit any situation for the purposes of terror, including a despicable terrorist who accelerated while ignoring the police officers who were deployed on either side of the route and signaled to him to stop.

"Everyone knows that the assailant was a teacher in a school where six other teachers have been arrested for choosing to teach ISIS’ ideology rather than the Education Ministry curriculum,” he added.

To date, Alsheich has not taken back that assertion, though he did claim that he couldn’t have left the media scene wide open for two hours after such an incident.

In the many interviews that police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot gave throughout the day of the incident, she firmly asserted that the incident was a terrorist car-ramming attack, and that the clashes between Umm al-Hiran residents and the police only occurred afterwards.The Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers responded: "We wish to make clear that the investigation of the events at Umm al-Hiran hasn’t ended yet. The probe is at an advanced stage, and is now awaiting the results of ballistic tests. At the end of the investigation, when the findings become clear, the department will pass them on to relevant parties and bring them to the attention of the public."

“The vehicle really sped toward the forces to carry out a terror attack,” she said. She added that “the terrorist is an Islamic Movement activist” and was also associated with ISIS – because copies of the Israel Hayom newspaper with articles about a terror attack by the extremist group were found in his home.

On the day of the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "not only does such an incident not deter us, it strengthens our resolve." The Prime Minister's Office had said that Netanyahu sent his condolences to Levi's family, noting that "Erez was an outstanding policeman, the son of a policeman, and he was murdered this morning in a car-ramming attack. This was the second car-ramming attack in a few days. We are battling this murderous phenomenon that is striking both Israel and the world."

On Wednesday, the police spokesman's office said: "The Israel Police, as a law enforcement agency, are waiting for the official conclusion of the investigation , which is still being conducted by the Justice Ministry's police investigation department. The information that is being provided to the public includes disinformation and many inaccuracies, as has unfortunately occurred a number of times since the incident. We suggest waiting for the release of the results of the official investigation rather than forming impressions from statements of one kind or another."

For his part, Alsheich, the chief of police, said: "I have spoken with the head of the police investigation unit, and he told me that there were still no conclusions and that things were still being examined. The Israel Police will not disrupt the investigation, and we will wait until the police investigation unit publicly and officially releases its investigation results. Leaks on this subject do not make the statements in the media official or correct, and the Israel Police will not be dragged into responding to unauthorized information."

Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon called on Public Security Minister Erdan to dismiss Alsheich immediately in light of the findings so far. "What has happened conclusively proves that the police need a serious housecleaning, from the chief to the spokesman's office." She called Alsheich's service as police chief an "ongoing disaster."

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