Moshe Saada, the former deputy head of the Israel Police’s internal investigations department, confirmed in an interview with Amit Segal on Channel 12 television what we already know about the shooting of Yakub Musa Abu al-Kiyan. He was shot to death by police in 2017 as they were razing houses in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. Following the shooting, policeman Erez Levy was run over and killed by Abu al-Kiyan’s vehicle. Although the facts have been established, the interview marks the first time that an official from inside the system has acknowledged them publicly, which makes it important.
Saada confirmed what was already reported in Haaretz over the years: The police’s internal investigations department concluded immediately after the incident that Levy’s death wasn’t a terror attack even as the police commissioner at the time, Roni Alsheich, and the police spokesman were disseminating fake news to the public. Saada’s remarks show that Shai Nitzan, the state prosecutor at the time, had been given the findings of the police’s internal investigations and the Shin Bet security service (the body authorized to deem an incident a terror attack), which concluded that no terror attack had occurred. Despite that, Nitzan refused to contradict Alsheich and acknowledge that Abu al-Kiyan was not a terrorist.
Saada said Alsheich and the police accused an innocent man who had been shot to death by police of carrying out an attack and killing an officer, deeming him a terrorist. Saada also accused Alsheich of disrupting the investigation that followed. By providing an official version of events, the commissioner in effect allegedly “dictated” the line that those involved would take and enabled them to allegedly coordinate their stories. In doing so, he allegedly complicated the effort to establish the truth.
Some five years have passed since this shocking affair, and the State of Israel has yet to clear the name of Abu al-Kiyan – an Israeli citizen and an innocent Bedouin teacher who was killed by the police and portrayed as a cop-killing terrorist. Official Israel has yet to retract the charge of then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that a terror attack occurred that day.
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There is no need to seriously consider the cynical apology made by Benjamin Netanyahu to the Abu al-Kiyan family in September 2020 as an official apology that clears Abu al-Kiyan’s name. Netanyahu acted as a criminal defendant and not as prime minister, and is known for not hesitating to incite against Arabs and accuse them of terror. Netanyahu only apologized after an email was revealed in which Nitzan wrote that the police commissioner “acted scandalously, but there are national interests.” Moreover, Netanyahu’s apology was worded in a self-interested fashion: “Senior prosecutors and police turned him into a terrorist to protect themselves and hurt me.”
In his interview with Segal, Saada offers a similar interpretation of events, which is that Alsheich and Nitzan were guided by their legal struggle with Netanyahu – as if official Israel needs a special reason to accuse an Arab of being a terrorist and to cover up the truth. We can argue over Saada’s interpretation, but we can’t dispute the facts. Israel must clear Abu al-Kiyan’s name, apologize to his family and pay compensation.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.