Parents of Israeli Bedouin Man Killed by Police Seek Justice Ministry Investigation

Lawyers for Yakub Abu al-Kiyan’s parents point to police video, eyewitnesses that contradict police version of events.

Bedouin women react to the destruction of houses on January 18, 2017 in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which is not recognized by the Israeli government, near the Negev desert city of Beersheba.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

The parents of the Bedouin man who was shot dead by Israeli police on Wednesday, allegedly after deliberately driving into a group of police officers in the southern Israeli town of Umm al-Hiran, killing one and injuring another, on Thursday asked the Justice Ministry to investigate the incident.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, acting on behalf of the parents of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, has requested a probe by the Justice Ministry department that investigates allegations of police misconduct.

In the incident, which occurred during clashes between residents of Umm al-Hiram who were protesting home demolitions and police officers, Sgt. Maj. Erez Levi was killed by a vehicle driven by Abu al-Kiyan.

According to the police, Abu al-Kiyan deliberately rammed his car into Levi and other police officers, and was then shot by police. But eyewitnesses have said that Abu al-Kiyan lost control of his car and hit the group of officers only after he was shot. Video from a police helicopter that was released by the Israel Police some hours after the incident shows police officers approaching the car and firing, after which the car speeds up and hits a group of officers. It is unclear what came before the shooting, and whether Abu al-Kiyan was still alive and in control of the vehicle when it accelerated.

Reuters reported an Israeli rights activist who was at the scene, Michal Haramati, as saying: “Suddenly the car started to go down the hill, without control, absolutely. The driver was obviously dead by the time that he lost control this way. That’s when he hit the cops.”

In their appeal to the Justice Ministry, Adalah attorneys Nadeem Shehadeh and Mohammed Bassam wrote that both the police video and a deposition by an eyewitness show that Abu al-Kiyan’s vehicle was fired on before it accelerated toward the police. Adalah also said that the police kept an ambulance from approaching the scene to treat Abu al-Kiyan for three hours. “This fact in itself gives a basis for the suspicion of offenses by the police and raises questions about the reliability of the police version of the events,” they wrote.

The attorneys also said police at the scene acted against standing orders, which state that use of live fire is permitted only as a last resort to prevent clear and present danger. Adalah asked that an autopsy be performed immediately on Abu al-Kiyan, as well as on Levi.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee declared a one-day general strike in Arab towns and a three-day mourning period. Arab schools in the Negev were closed Thursday, and the secretariat of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee was scheduled to convene during the day in the municipality of the Negev Bedouin city of Rahat to discuss further protests.

The incident in which Levi and Abu al-Kiyan died was preceded by the arrival in Umm al-Hiran, before dawn on Wednesday, of dozens of police vehicles and hundreds of officers to secure demolitions in the town by Israeli authorities. Residents reported the extensive use of riot-control measures and the use of live fire. When the demolitions were over, the police prevented journalists, protesters and Knesset members from entering. The chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, and another individual were slightly injured in the clashes and were treated at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.

Demolitions in Umm al-Hiran began in November 2016, following a compensation agreement between the owners of the structures and the state. This was the first demolition of dwelling in the village since the approximately 1,000 residents of the village began to fight for their lands, on which the Jewish community of Hiran is slated to be built. The structures are outside the area slated for construction of the Jewish community, but all the houses in the village are to be demolished after the High Court of Justice rejected the residents’ petition.

In 2013, a number of families from the al-Kiyan tribe living in the area petitioned the High Court, together with Adalah, to prevent the demolition of the dwellings and the residents evacuated. According to the petition, when the state was established, members of the tribe were living at Khirbet Zobala, and were moved to the Yatir Forest area in the northern Negev, where the village of Umm al-Hiran was established in the 1950s. The village was never recognized by the state, although the state does not deny that it had moved the residents there. Over the past decade, the dwellings there were demolished a number of times and the residents were offered the compromise of moving to the nearby town of Hura and compensation in the form of an 800-square-meter lot. But the petitioners refused the compensation, saying that they did not want to be expelled from their lands a third time.

With reporting from Reuters.