Case of Bedouin Teen Shot in Back by Israeli Cop Closed, Prosecutors Say

Police investigation unit says it can't prove case against police volunteer's shooting of 18-year-old Mazen Abu Habak last year

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Suleiman abu Habak, father of Mazen abu Habak, and the younger brother of the Bedouin teenager, who died of a gunshot to the back
Suleiman abu Habak, father of Mazen abu Habak, and the younger brother of the Bedouin teenager, who died of a gunshot to the back.Eliahu Hershkovitz Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz

More than 14 months after a volunteer with Israel's Border Police shot Mazen Abu Habak, 18, to death, the case – which was never disclosed to the public – has been closed by the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers.

The volunteer had been questioned in February, about a year after the Bedouin teenager's death. But the evidence did not suffice to pursue an indictment, the department told Haaretz. So it closed the case.

On February 2, 2016, around 11 PM, a jeep driving near the moshav of Eshbol in the northern Negev aroused the suspicions of police and volunteers. They claim the driver ignored their order to stop. A chase ensued, during which, the police claim, the jeep crashed into police cars. The policemen fired at the jeep, but lost it. The vehicle was only located hours later, burned, at the Nokdim intersection in the south.

Meanwhile however, about an hour after the chase, Abu Habak came to the clinic in the Bedouin town of Rahat, near Be'er Sheva, shot in the back. He was evacuated to Soroka hospital in Be'er Sheva in grave condition and died of his injuries four days later. In contrast to normal practice in such cases, the police did not divulge the incident to the press, the Magen David Adom ambulance service did not report the man's evacuation and the Soroka hospital did not disclose his arrival. The police did report the gunfire by the volunteer to the Justice Ministry investigations department.

Haaretz first learned of the incident in October, nine months after the event.

The investigations department did advise the family of the decision to close the case, but did not advise the media of that either.

In fact the suspicion that the reported incident of live fire was related to Ability Habak's injury arose that same night it happened, the investigations department says, and an autopsy proved that the gunshot was the cause of his death.

"We Arabs are never surprised by the Justice Ministry investigations department. We know the outcome in advance," Hussein abu Hussein, a lawyer representing the abu Habak family, told Haaretz.

"From [the riots of] October 2000 to this date, it's clear how every incident that handled by the investigations department will end, in being closed. It is highly disappointing." They will respond appropriately after receiving the investigative material, abu Hussein said.

The investigations department commented that there is no concrete need to report investigative actions, especially if disclosure could impair the report. The evidence did not suffice to prove criminality, the department said, including because the vehicle had been torched, because of varying versions of events, and because various people suspected of involvement denied traveling with the victim at all."