Case Closed: No Proof of Terrorism in Death of Police Officer Killed by Bedouin Last Year

Prosecutors: There's no way to prove that Yakub Abu al-Kiyan of Umm al-Hiran intentionally hit police officer Erez Levy before cops shot him dead

Al-Kiyan's car being towed from the scene in Umm al-Hiran
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Prosecutors have closed the case surrounding an incident in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, saying there was no way to determine whether the January 2017 death of a police officer there was the result a terror attack.

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Israeli officer Erez Levy, 37, who was killed during clashes in Umm al-Hiran after allegedly being run over.

In a statement, the prosecutors added that there was no basis for criminal proceedings to be launched against the officers involved in the event, in which Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was shot and killed after running over policeman Erez Levi.

At the time, the Israel Police claimed Kiyan was a terrorist who had intentionally hit Levi. However, the legal officials now say there is no way to show whether Kiyan, a schoolteacher, lost control of his car or was acting with the intent to kill.

Yakub Musa Abu al-Kiyan.
Courtesy

“Either way,” they declared, “even if the driver lost control of the car, there is no basis to suspect criminal action on the part of the officers [who shot Kiyan] since they acted in accordance with protocol and according to what they perceived to be the situation at the time.”

While police welcomed the closing of the case, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called for the Shin Bet security service to renew its investigation of Kiyan, claiming the probe was halted prematurely before it was possible to determine whether the car-ramming was a terrorist act.  The investigation should be resumed so as “not to leave an open wound in Israeli society,” said Erdan on Tuesday, following the announcement that the case would be closed.   

Immediately after the incident, police claimed that Kiyan was a member of the Islamic State group who had acted as a so-called lone wolf terrorist. Erdan repeated the claim, citing as evidence newspapers found in Kiyan’s home.  

Video raises questions about alleged car-ramming attack by Bedouin

Three months ago Haaretz reported that, in contradiction to the position of the Israel Police, the Justice Ministry’s internal police investigation unit had decided the incident was not a terror attack. A source from a law enforcement agency said at the time that no evidence was found indicating advance planning on Kiyan’s part, nor did he seem to have had any political motive. 

Last week Erdan accused the internal police investigation unit of “acting scandalously” in determining that there was no evidence to suggest that Kiyan was a terrorist.

“My feelings are that it’s more likely that it was a terror attack,” said Erdan at the time. 

While the public security minister is not ready to close the case on Kiyan, Arab lawmakers and Bedouin activists expressed outrage over the closing of the case against the officers who shot and killed Kiyan. 

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, ripped into legal officials saying “they throw out the truth when the lives of Arabs are on the line. The important questions remain open and the public deserves answers: Why were live rounds fired? Why didn’t [Kiyan] get medical care? We will continue to fight for the truth.”

Ra’ad Abu al-Kiyan, an activist and leader of the Umm al-Hiran community, who is Kiyan’s nephew, said the family would appeal the decision to close the case.

“We didn’t have too many expectations. The prosecutors are part of the state and sadly, instead of investigating the truth regarding this murder they decided to skip over it,” he said.

“Yakub was shot and left bleeding. We will never give up our demand to reopen this investigation and will continue until the truth is revealed,” he added.

The village is supposed to be evacuated and, according to the local leader, “the timing of [today’s] statement is an attempt to blow up the deal reached with residents. That’s what this really is. Clean and simple.”

Residents of the unrecognized village signed an agreement two weeks ago to relocate to a community adjacent to the Bedouin town of Hura, where they are to receive land and compensation.  They were due to be evacuated by the end of April, but under the agreement, reached after years of negotiations, they will have until September to relocate.

The police welcomed the announcement Monday about closure of the case, saying it “fully confirms” their initial investigation into the event and adding, “Now that the [legal] investigation is over, the police can continue the process of probing the incident and learning from it.”