Thousands in Northern Israel Protest Home Demolitions in Arab Communities

Demonstrators denounce the killing of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, the driver of the vehicle that ran over police officer Erez Levi, during clashes in Bedouin village. Umm al-Hiran victim shot in chest, knee, bled to death slowly.

Protesters stand facing Israeli security forces during a demonstration against home demolitions in Arab neighborhoods, in the Arab Israeli city of Ar'Ara, north of Israel, January 21, 2017.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Thousands of people demonstrated in Wadi Ara in northern Israel on Saturday to protest last week’s home demolitions in two Arab communities and the shooting death by police of a Bedouin man whose car hit and killed an officer during a protest in one of the towns on Wednesday.

Israel Channel 10 News reported on Friday that initial results from the autopsy of the Bedouin man, Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, found that he was shot in the chest and the right knee, possibly before his car accelerated into a group of police officers. Police Sgt. Maj. Erez Levi died after being struck by the car.

The bullet that hit Abu al-Kiyan in the chest struck a major artery, causing him to bleed out within 20 to 30 minutes. According to the report, the coroners determined that with prompt medical care, Abu al-Kiyan could have survived his injuries.

Seven protesters suffered minor injuries Saturday when police used stun grenades, as well as stink spray, to disperse hundreds of protesters blocking a highway intersection near Arara. A photographer and a Magen David Adom paramedic were injured by sponge bullets. 

Saturday's protest was one of the steps decided on by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in a meeting on Thursday. The committee also decided to rebuild all 15 structures that had been demolished in Umm al-Hiran and to organize a convoy on Sunday from Kalansua to government offices in Jerusalem on Monday.

The police maintain that Abu al-Kiyan deliberately rammed his car into the group of police officers. But eyewitnesses say he lost control of his car and drove into the group only after he was shot by police. A video shot from a police helicopter and released by the police seems to support the eyewitness accounts.

On Friday, Abu al-Kiyan’s family petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the immediate release of his body for burial.

Also on Friday, Be’er Sheva District Court Judge Natan Zlotchover overturned a decision by the city’s Magistrate’s Court and extended by three days police custody for two men, ages 20 and 27, accused of punching policemen during the clashes at Umm al-Hiran.

Magistrate’s Court Judge Zvi Forer had released the two to house arrest “to help lower the flames.” Zlotchover said he believed keeping the two behind bars would send a clear message that violence would not be tolerated.

Some of the protesters in Wadi Ara yesterday carried signs with slogans calling Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan a war criminal. Marchers stepped off from Arara town hall and walked to buildings marked for demolition by the state.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh called for Erdan’s resignation and the appointment of an official committee of inquiry “to uncover the lies of Netanyahu, Erdan and the police.”

Referring to the autopsy report, Odeh said: “The truth as we stated it all along has finally come to light. The victim Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, a father and a teacher, was shot by the police and bled to death because the police intentionally prevented him from receiving medical care.”

MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) said: “The thousands of protesters here are sending a clear message from the Arab public to Netanyahu — we will not give in to a policy of demolition and incitement.” He called for Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to resign their posts and to stop “the false accusations against the victim Yakub Abu al-Kiyan.” Tibi also demanded an apology from Erdan and Alsheich the Abu al-Kiyan family and the public.

Yael Noy, a Jewish resident of Western Galilee, said she had come to yesterday’s demonstration to show solidarity with the Arab community. “They can’t fight this war without us,” she said.