Opinion |

A Green Light to Kill Arab Citizens

The shocking story of Abu al-Kiyan's death is like a Greek tragedy. The Israeli police needs to take these situations seriously - and open investigations so that police violence doesn't go without a trial

Mohammed Bassam
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Demonstrators protesting home demolitions hold a banner with a picture of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, January 23, 2017.
Demonstrators and lawmakers protesting home demolitions hold a banner with a picture of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, January 23, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Mohammed Bassam

The decision of the Justice Ministry’s police investigation department not to open a criminal investigation into the policemen involved in the death of Umm al-Hiran resident Yakub Abu al-Kiyan didn’t shock anyone in the Arab community. Israel’s Arab citizens have internalized the idea that the department’s attitude is not the product of minor and reparable defects and failures but a consistent policy of covering up for police officers, hiding complaints and concealing information from the public.

The shocking story of Abu al-Kiyan is reminiscent of a Greek tragedy: The “law enforcement” system opened fire at him for no good reason, prevented him from receiving medical treatment until he died, held on to his body and refused to transfer it for burial at the proper time, slandered him and destroyed his home.

His family's repeated requests for information about the progress of the investigation were met without a substantial reply from the department. As far as it is concerned, the Abu al-Kiyan family is not part of the story, not worthy of receiving any updates about the death of their loved one. And now, almost a year after that black morning, the investigation department has reached the expected conclusion: The behavior of the police was faultless.

The events that happened in Umm al-Hiran make it clear that in the eyes of the police, the blood, dignity and property of the Arab citizen are outside the law. The recommendation not to try those responsible for the death of Abu al-Kiyan means giving a green light to a trigger-happy policy with regard to Israel’s Arab citizens.

This policy has allowed over 55 cases of Arab citizens killed by police since 2000 to be closed without any of the people responsible going to trial. It’s the same policy that has granted complete immunity to policemen who shot and killed 13 young Arab protesters during clashes in October 2000, at the start of the Second Intifada. The investigation department also covered up these problematic events, against the recommendations of the Or Commission, which reviewed the events of October 2000 and ruled that the shooting was carried out illegally.

Other serious complaints about police violence frequently made to the department do not receive a suitable response either, which brings up tough questions regarding the police’s willingness for a professional supervisory body that examines police behavior independently, effectively and without bias.

The conduct of the police investigation department cannot be divorced from the typical public and political discourse in cases of contact between Arab citizens and security services. In the consciousness of the Israeli Jew, there is a perception that when it comes to Arab citizens, the behavior the security forces is legal and justified, since they are protecting the country from “the enemy within.”

The killing of Abu al-Kiyan was accompanied by false accusations from two heads of “law enforcement” bodies, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich. Through lies and the propaganda of incitement, Abu al-Kiyan, the Arab lawmakers and all those who identified with the just struggle of the residents of Umm al-Hiran were implicated in the death of police officer Erez Levy. But thanks to numerous eyewitnesses and the presence of cameras that documented the incident, the truth came to light, the police’s version of the events was discredited and Abu al-Kiyan’s innocence was proven.

The decision of the investigation department is for now the last link in a chain of racist and violent actions by the Israeli establishment against the residents of Umm al-Hiran. It began with the government’s racist decision to destroy the village and uproot its residents in order to build a community for Jews on its ruins, continued with the helplessness and weakness demonstrated by the High Court of Justice when it allowed the government to progress with the plan, and concluded with the department’s support for the shooting and killing of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan.

The writer, an attorney in the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is representing the residents of Umm al-Hiran in their battle against the destruction of the village, and has filed a complaint to the police investigation department on behalf of the Abu al-Kiyan family.

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