Editorial

What Israel's State Prosecutor Ignored at Umm al-Hiran

In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel, Arabs are presumed to be terrorists unless proven otherwise

A child in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, April 11, 2018.
\ Ilan Assayag

The report that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan ignored a Shin Bet security service official’s conclusions about last year’s incident in Umm al-Hiran casts a heavy shadow over his decision to close the case against the policemen involved, without clearing the late Yakub Abu al-Kiyan’s name (Gidi Weitz, Monday).

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The Shin Bet coordinator who conducted the investigation at the scene of the incident concluded that policeman Erez Levy died due to operational errors by the police rather than a car-ramming attack.

So why did Nitzan ignore this conclusion, even though the coordinator testified about it to the Justice Ministry department responsible for probing police misconduct and submitted a written report, which effectively rejected the possibility that this was a terror attack?

It’s no surprise that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich spoke to Nitzan in an effort to influence his decision. Both Erdan and Alsheich have good reasons to want the public to continue believing that Abu al-Kiyan was a terrorist rather than a victim of operational errors by the police. 

As readers may recall, a few hours after the incident, the police commissioner demonstrated a lack of professional responsibility by asserting, without sufficient evidence, that Abu al-KIyan was an “evil terrorist.” Alsheich even accused him of ties to Islamic State. And Erdan, in an act of national irresponsibility, declared that Levy was run over in a terror attack.

But it’s not just the Shin Bet coordinator, who investigated at the scene and took statements from those involved in the hours after the incident occurred, who rejected the possibility that this was a terror attack.

The Justice Ministry department’s own investigators reached the same conclusion, saying that Abu al-Kiyan lost control of his car after some policemen shot him, and that is why he ran over Levy. Moreover, senior Justice Ministry officials agreed that the evidence showed that Abu al-Kiyan didn’t commit an attack.

Despite all this, Nitzan decided to close the case against the policemen; it was only the stain of terrorism on Abu al-Kiyan that he refused to wash away. “There is no significant evidence that could decide this issue unequivocally, with a high level of probability,” he said in his decision issued a month ago.

This decision blatantly ignored the Shin Bet report, the positions of the senior legal officials who dealt with the case, and even the starting point for every criminal proceeding, which is the presumption that a man is innocent until proven guilty.

Like Alsheich and Erdan, Nitzan’s behavior shows how, in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, Arabs are presumed to be terrorists unless proven otherwise. The time has come to put an end to this ugly affair.

The prosecution must make the results of the investigation public, including the report by the Shin Bet coordinator that contradicts the police chief’s stance and Erdan’s “feeling.” It must clear Abu al-Kiyan’s name and compensate his family. In addition, the attorney general must investigate Nitzan’s conduct in this affair.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.