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In This Bedouin Town, Murder Wasn’t the Only Crime

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Al-Kiyan's car being towed from the scene in Umm al-Hiran
Yakub Abu al-Kiyan's car being towed from the scene in Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The murder of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was not the only crime committed by the State of Israel against his village, Umm al-Hiran, and it may not even be the worst. Of course, killing is killing. Abu al-Kiyan, a beloved math teacher and the first Bedouin Ph.D. in chemistry, was executed by incited policemen who were too quick on the trigger, who also let him bleed to death without giving him medical assistance that could have potentially saved him.

But anyone who thinks that wraps up Israel’s crimes against Umm al-Hiran is deluding himself. The hollow apology by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t even begin the series of apologies that Israel owes the people of that village.

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The difficult images after the killing and destruction don’t fade: Raba al-Kiyan, a thin woman in black, wandering among the ruins of her house as she remains silent, her gaze fixed on the ground. Her nephew, a medical student in Moldova, explains that this is how she repeatedly recreates her last moments with her husband.

At the same time, in the nearby town of Hura, the second widow was mourning – Dr. Amal al-Kiyan. She had married Yakub after her husband died, as Bedouin tradition obligated her to marry his brother. By the age of 24, she was already lecturing at Kaye Academic College of Education in Be’er Sheva. When we paid a condolence call she had earned a doctorate in education from Ben-Gurion University.

The two widows and the entire village were in shock. A gas station attendant in Hura told us how much he had admired his math teacher at Yitzhak Rabin High School. Then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan – don’t ever forget this – and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and many others were competing for who could besmirch the teacher more.

Israel Police officers next to the vehicle driven by Yakub Abu al-Kiyan in Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. Credit: Tsafrir Abayov / AP

His brother-in-law said that Yakub had put his personal computer and other items into his jeep – the one ostensibly used in the “terror” ramming attack – to save them from the demolition of his home. That’s not how a terrorist leaves his home before an attack. A few days earlier, when he saw laborers starting to work on the construction of the Jewish town of Hiran, the one that was to rise up on the ruins of his village, he told his family, “Let them do their work.” That was the despicable terrorist, as the police commissioner and the minister referred to him.

When Alex Levac and I were in Umm al-Hiran, after the killing and the destruction, we didn’t need an investigating committee, and certainly not three years of lies and insults and Amit Segal’s tendentious reporting to know that the teacher, Yakub, was innocent of any wrongdoing and that his killing was a heinous crime. We knew back then that his vehicle had moved slowly down the dirt road from his home when they shot him. In no Jewish community would police have shot at a slow-moving car, and certainly not let its driver bleed to death in that inhumane manner reserved for bleeding Arabs.

But none of this began at dawn on January 18, 2017. Israel had decided to destroy a community that it itself created, after rehousing residents there it had expelled from their lands in 1956, to keep them away from a kibbutz. Now they are expelling them again to build a community for religious-Zionist Jews. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and justices before him rejected all the challenges. “The residents of Umm al-Hiran have no right to the place,” declared Rubinstein, a justice on the Supreme Court, the beacon of justice in Israel. He, too, is an accomplice.

No one has asked where exactly do Bedouin have any rights in this land, which is also theirs. The garbage dump at Abu Dis? The polluted industrial zone at Ramat Hovav? This didn’t happen in 1948 or even 1958. The year was 2017. Without any shame, embarrassment, security excuse or Zionist prattle; pure apartheid in sovereign Israel. To “Judaize,” an abominable term; to get rid of the Bedouin and build for Jews.

Eight months after the killing and the destruction, we returned to Umm al-Hiran. Raba, with a shy smile, came to greet us from the tent that had become home to her and her 10 children. The ruins soaked with her husband’s blood were still laying there as a monument to the crime.

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