Israeli Border Police Volunteer Suspected of Fatally Shooting Bedouin Youth; Incident Concealed From Public

Mazan Abu Habak, 18, was brought to hospital in February suffering from a gunshot wound following a high-speed car chase with Border Police. Justice Ministry probing incident, but has yet to summon volunteers involved for questioning.

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The father and little brother of Mazan Abu Habak hold up a picture of their deceased family member.
The father and little brother of Mazan Abu Habak hold up a picture of their deceased family member.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers has been probing an incident in which a Bedouin man was seemingly shot and killed by an Israeli Border Police volunteer in February.

Although it happened eight months ago, the department has yet to summon the volunteers involved in the incident for questioning as possible suspects. The shooting in southern Israel wasn’t reported to the media at the time, either.

On February 2, at around 11 P.M., a team of Border Police volunteers encountered a suspicious-looking sport utility vehicle near the community of Eshbol. Those in the vehicle failed to respond to the policemen’s command to stop and a chase ensued. During the chase, the driver of the SUV drove wildly and even hit several police patrol cars.

One of the policemen told the department investigators that at one point he opened fire at the SUV but wasn’t aiming at the passengers. In any case, he added, he believed he had missed the vehicle.

The SUV managed to evade the police and was later found torched at the Nokdim junction.

About an hour after the incident, a Magen David Adom ambulance brought Mazan Abu Habak, an 18-year-old Bedouin from Masudin al-Azazma, to a clinic in Rahat with a wound in his upper back, near his neck. Abu Habak was transferred to Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva, in serious condition and barely conscious. He died four days later.

His body underwent a limited autopsy, which determined that “his death was almost certainly caused by shooting to the back of the neck, which led to complications of pulmonary infection and heart failure.” In other words, there was a causal connection between the shot that hit him and his death.

Nobody reported the incident to the media — not the police or Border Police spokesmen, the MDA or Soroka. The Justice Ministry department also failed to announce that it had launched an inquiry. The police, however, did report the incident to the Justice Ministry department, which sent investigators to the scene.

Abu Habak’s father, Saliman, provided Haaretz with information that could shed light on the incident. According to the father, on the afternoon of February 2, Mazan had told him he was going to buy a cell phone in the town of Shaqib al-Salam (aka Segev Shalom), where another youth joined him. From there, they drove toward Rahat. The father said they had picked up a third person and drove toward Netivot. “I spoke to him at 21:30 and told him to come home; he said he was with [the others] and would return soon.”

According to the father, at some point his son and his friends stopped at the roadside, when a police patrol car pulled up and blocked their way. The three fled with the police car speeding after them. During the chase, the police opened fire.

Saliman Abu Habak said this is what he had been told by one of the other youths in the vehicle. “To this day I don’t know anything for certain, only what they told me. I want to get answers about how he was killed and by whom.”

The police said the two other youths were questioned, but the police could not establish for certain that the youths had been in the vehicle.

The Justice Ministry department for investigating officers said the Border Police officers had not been questioned with the intent of charging a crime until now because, based on the evidence collected, it wasn’t clear if there was a sufficient factual basis to suspect a criminal offense had been committed. The department said the investigation is ongoing and no decision has been reached.

Haaretz has learned that the bullet that killed Abu Habak exploded into fragments when it entered his body. This makes it difficult to conduct a ballistic test that would prove conclusively if the bullet was from the gun of a Border Police officer. The burned-out car also makes evidence-gathering difficult.

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